BEIRUT: Lebanon on Wednesday launched a major campaign aimed at cutting rising levels of obesity in the country.

The health risks associated with being overweight will be highlighted as part of the awareness drive announced by Lebanese Health Minister Jamil Jabak.

The initiative comes in the wake of a World Health Organization (WHO) report which ranked Lebanon sixth among nine Middle Eastern and North African countries on a list of the world’s most overweight countries. Lebanon was preceded by Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya.

Children and young people will be among the groups specifically targeted in the campaign running under the title, “Your health cannot bear it; lose some weight.”

Lebanese officials aim to shed light on the health dangers associated with obesity and how to prevent them, focusing on chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Campaign coordinator, Dr. Akram Shatti, from the Lebanese Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Lipids, told Arab News that obesity in Lebanon had worsened due a growth in the number of fast-food restaurants, and increased consumption of fatty and processed foods.

Lifestyle changes were also a factor, he said, with many Lebanese spending long hours sat watching television or playing video games. He pointed out that the rate of obesity in people aged 20 and above ranged between 20 and 28 percent.

“Endocrinologists in Lebanon are beginning to notice a rise in diabetes rates in young people, and this is caused by obesity. It is true that there are hormonal and genetic causes, but we have also seen a change in the daily lifestyle in the Middle East and GCC countries resulting specifically from a lack of activity,” Shatti added.

“Lebanon does not have accurate statistics on the impact of previous awareness campaigns, but we have begun to witness a greater awareness of obesity, and patients now visit doctors on their own to seek help in fear of complications caused by obesity.”

Jabak said parents and carers were partly to blame for the country’s obesity problems. “Three percent of the children in Lebanon suffer from obesity, which may be mostly caused by genetics, but all other children are born with a normal weight that gradually changes due to a lifestyle that leads them to gain weight and become obese when they grow up.

“It is sad that raising children depends on rewarding them with candies and fast foods, which are filled with fat and grease. This leads to the development of habits they cannot break when they are older because they grow to prefer unhealthy food to home-cooked food, and this puts them on the road to obesity,” added Jabak.

The minister stressed that working out was the primary mechanism for fighting obesity and boosting immunity and he urged parents to encourage their children to do more exercise instead of spending hours on electronic devices.

Last year, the Lebanese Ministry of Health organized a national day to combat obesity in children after the country’s former health minister, Ghassan Hasbani, revealed figures showing obesity rates among Lebanon’s youngsters rose to 13 percent between 1990 and 2014, one of the highest levels in the Middle East.

The 2018 campaign gave children 10 tips to apply on a daily basis, including sleeping for at least 10 hours, laughing heartily nine times, hugging lovingly, drinking seven glasses of water, eating fruit, grains and protein, working out for one hour, and spending no more than 60 minutes playing video games and watching television.

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