Obesity is a constant topic of conversation and concern throughout the world, but increasingly so in the Middle East . Rare is the day that goes by where regional newspapers do not feature at least one article on the subject.
Confronting the issue of obesity, heart disease and diabetes is continually at the forefront in this country as well, likely a result of increasingly alarming rates of overweight and obese people within the state (I won't throw any random numbers around, but a simple google search will yield approximate obesity rates for pretty much any country).
The conditions listed above are explicitly addressed in this country's national health strategy, at regional health conferences, within school curriculums, in urban planning and in the national development strategy. Qatar has even gone so far as to declare the second Tuesday of February a statutory 'sports' holiday as part of its commitment to create awareness and to provide citizens and residents with opportunities to live healthy and get fit. I think the country is actually taking some very impressive, concrete and sustainable steps towards providing the education needed to incite this and future generations to healthy living.
Yet coupled with the awareness initiatives is an increasing trend toward quick fixes to this expanding (pun intended) problem. Health food stores and "diet shops" are popping up more and more in the ME. Entire clinics catering exclusively to patients seeking lap band surgery and gastric bypass are not unheard of. Fast tracks to rapid weight loss that don't really have much to do with embracing the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.
It's not unheard of to find these establishments set up in a strip mall, right next to a popular fast-food outlet, bakery, donut shop or ice cream parlor. I can't help but wonder at the logic. It's almost like opening up a chemo center next to a cigar bar. "Come on in and see us; we'll try to make you better, but if we fail, you can always pop in next door for your last hoorah!"
A glowing example of the stopgap approach appeared in yesterday's local newspaper, touting an initiative in Dubai to help motivate people to lose weight through the launch of a campaign titled "Your Weight in Gold". Participants in the campaign who lose a minimum of 2 kg by August 18, 2013 will be compensated with 1 g of gold for each kg lost.
Or is it? What possible personal motivation is attached to that gram of gold? While I applaud the intention, I can't help but think that the carrot at the end of the skinny stick is not enough in this case to get people thinking about what really matters.
A gram of gold is selling today at about 47$ (US). In the big scheme of things, I'm convinced that 2kg of "me" is worth more than 95$. At that rate, my life (as measured by my weight) is barely worth $2,700. Is that really how we want to go around measuring what matters?
It got me thinking about the things that really motivate people to make a positive lifestyle change. For example, recent studies have shown a possible link between weight loss and improved memory in older women. I'm thinking if I were menopausal, that study would be a pretty good incentive to lose a few lbs.
For some people, it might be the hope of living a little longer, or a little better. For others, it might be a chance to practice a sport with their child, or that mountain climb that's been on their bucket list. It might be simply to stop burping so much, or to ease the pain in that bum knee. It might be to leave a healthy legacy to their child, or to breathe easier, or to simply feel better about themselves.
But somehow I doubt it's ever about 95$.
Hopefully personal motivation will kick in and it's not only silver and gold that will carry weight in the fight to end obesity.
As an aside ....
I wonder what world health powers would think of my strategy to change food currency to calories and physical activity rather than dollars and cents?
e.g. After my diet breakfast and diet lunch, I pop in for a fast food burger and fries. The conversation that ensues goes something like this:
Fast Food Server: That will be 1,400 calories, Mam.
Me: But I don't have 1,400 calories left today. I've already paid 1,200 for lunch and breakfast.
Fast Food Server: Well, we ARE offering a special on the "Balanced Meal"; it comes in at just under 600 calories. It's not as trendy, but it's gotten some really good reviews.
Me: But I really wanted the "Biggie Biggie Meal". Can't we come to some sort of agreement?
Fast Food Server: Well, you're in luck. Because we've just started a layaway plan. I'll get the burger started, and you go back there and sign up with our Calorie Credit Agent. Talk to him about signing up for the pedometer account. It's that easy. You can take up to 8 hours (at a leisurely 5 km/hr pace) to earn that burger, fries and big drink. As soon as you're done, "Biggie Biggie Meal" is all yours.
I'm thinking I might reconsider a few food choices.