x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Fighting obesity requires willpower

A sustained campaign to hold individuals accountable for their lifestyle choices can prove effective in the fight against obesity.

What used to be called the "Dubai stone" has spread to the capital: the danger of expatriates putting on extra weight after they move to Abu Dhabi was highlighted by experts in The National yesterday.

Obesity is a serious and well-known problem among Emiratis - 67 per cent of Emirati men and 72 per cent of women have been classed as overweight. But the situation for expatriates looks as bleak, with the current percentage of obese individuals expected to triple in the next decade. For all of us, being overweight is set to overtake smoking as the number-one cause of preventable deaths.

The good news is that antismoking campaigns are expected to bring down the number of smokers. The bad news is that an obesity epidemic is not as easy to deal with because obesity, even more than smoking, is linked to social and cultural trends: a burgeoning fast food culture, a high rate of soft-drink consumption and a shortage of exercise opportunities all contribute. As one doctor put it, "in this civilisation, everyone is on their bottoms". What starts as the occasional takeaway can quickly become a regular event; what begins as an occasional Friday feast can become every weekend's habitual main activity.

In addition, there are specific factors in the UAE (and other countries with many expatriates) that can increase the risk of putting on weight: long hours, a social culture that leans heavily towards eating and drinking, a tendency for those far from home to "comfort eat" and weather that, for several months of the year, makes outdoor exercise a burden.

There is a role for Government in handling these issues, but one focused more on education than on regulation. In tackling many of these factors in weight gain it is simple individual will-power that is most vital.

This is an urgent issue. Obesity feeds serious diseases. The alarming rates and predicted trends, extrapolated not too far into the future, could even begin to reverse many of the gains, in lifespan and well-being, that modern medicine has brought us.

There is no easy cure for the obesity epidemic, but a strong message and a sustained campaign urging individuals to make prudent lifestyle choices can be effective. The best way to get rid of the Abu Dhabi stone is not to be weighed down by it in the first place.