The Gulf is home to some have the heaviest people on earth. Governments can't alone fight the fat and will require a whole gamut of tools such as PE and private sector involvement and better regulations, believes Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"The prevalence of overweight and obese individuals was highest in the WHO Region of the Americas (62% overweight in both sexes, and 26% obese) and lowest in the WHO South-East Asia Region (14% overweight in both sexes and 3% obese)," the organization said in its latest report. "In the WHO European Region, WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (Middle East) and WHO Region of the Americas, over 50% of women were overweight. In all three regions, approximately half of these overweight women were obese (23%, 24% and 29% respectively)."By 2008, 10% of men and 14% of women in the world were obese, compared with 5% of men and 8% of women in 1980. As a result, an estimated half a billion men and women over the age of 20 were estimated to be obese in 2008. In all WHO regions, women were more likely to be obese than men.BAML expects the disease to take centrestage as governments find ways to fight the fat and even improve regulations."As happened with smoking, it is likely that the growing cost burden of obesity on governments, corporates and wider society will spur collective action and greater regulation," notes the bank. "BofA Merrill Lynch expects widespread scrutiny of lifestyle aspects associated with obesity including food and drink, schools, work environments, insurers, tackling sedentary lifestyles, and encouraging increasing physical activity."According to the bank, it takes 40% more to treat obese patients compared to non-obese patients. High levels of global childhood obesity and growing obesity in emerging markets is also set to increase global costs.
"Global obesity is a mega-investment theme for the next 25 years and beyond. Obesity may be the most pressing health challenge facing the world today and efforts to tackle it will shape thinking by policy makers and in boardrooms around the world," said Sarbjit Nahal, equity strategist at BAML.
Other regional countries have not fared any better, with Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia posting high obesity rates as well.As healthcare costs rise across the region and greater prosperity leads to bigger waistlines, governments will need to re-examine regulations and even incentives for citizens, apart from greater healthcare facilities.A report by respected Australian dieticians suggested that subsidies may have resulted in Egypt's obesity problems."The findings indicated that government subsidies for bread and sugar may have contributed to an obesity epidemic in Egypt and that reducing subsidies to create a 1% increase in bread and sugar prices per 100 calories would reduce the average body mass index (BMI) of mothers in the country by 0.12% and 0.11%, respectively," noted health science practicioners from Menzies Centre for Health Policy, The George Institute for International Health and Deakin University.In Saudi Arabia, the government is also battling increasing problem with obesity, which affects about 30% of children.The low levels of exercise, along with a taste for fast foods laden with carbohydrates, salt, fat and processed sugar is cause for increasing concern about the region's health. The UAE also faces high overweight and/or obesity issues among the indigenous population. In 2008, the Department of Nutrition and Health at UAE University reported that about a quarter of children aged between eight and 12 were overweight.
While western economies typically spend well over 10% of their expenditure on healthcare, the figure stands at less than 5% in the Middle East North Africa region; the Gulf is far worse with spend of around 3.8% of its GDP on healthcare spending. Clearly, there is scope to do more.The cost of not doing much to fight obesity in the Gulf and the Middle East will take its toll on governments' coffers in the near future. Apart from investment in preventive medicine, there's also a great need for a major social drive to highlight health benefits and better dietary choices before waistlines get out of control.As they say, prevention is better than cure.
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