Blame it on the booming oil sector and disposable income of residents in rich Gulf States, misinformation about living a healthy lifestyle or plain old laziness. But no matter what the reason, the waistlines of children across the GCC are getting bigger. According to a recent study, 20% of children in Dubai are overweight, with another 12% being obese already. Experts agree that other Gulf nations have similar, if not worse, statistics. So why are kids getting so fat in the Gulf? You can blame it on America. That’s right! The World’s fattest nation has categorically exported its’ fast-food values to the rest of the World who are eating it up with open wallets and hungry mouths.
Whoppers, Big Macs and the Super-Sized lifestyle took root in the Middle East several years ago when Western franchises began opening their doors, but only now are we seeing the gargantuan effects. Most families eat out 3 or 4 times a week. Money is not an object in most GCC nations and the fast-food ethos is what most people live by in the unforgiving desert region. It’s simply easier for parents to swing by the local fast-food joint or call in an order rather than to slave over a hot stove when the temperatures outside are scalding in the summer months. Kids in the Gulf today are nothing like their pint-sized ancestors who used to herd camels and go pearl diving. These days’ kids are hooked up to whichever electronic device is the most popular whether it is the fashionable iPod or Sony’s sleek new PSP. There is a severe lack of exercise amongst children in the Gulf who would much rather lead a sedentary lifestyle while sitting in the cool air-conditioned confines of their homes.
Who can blame them? More than 70% of women living in the Gulf are overweight or obese with Gulf men following right behind at a staggering 50%. Parents are not setting proper examples for their children by ignoring the basics of proper health and fitness. Most adults in the Gulf have jobs that require little or no exertion in our modern World. And they often earn higher incomes than their parents did and let’s not forget about the perks of surplus oil revenues. Almost all GCC countries share the wealth with their citizens in one way or another whether it is through cash gifts or a reduced cost of living for the basics like rent or utilities. As a result, parents have more money to splurge on all the goodies their kids see via commercials on TV and the slick junk food ads in printed publications.
Overweight children bear their weight as a burden straight into adulthood where they suffer from a full range of health issues including heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. As a result of their weight, they might not be able to fully contribute to the societies in which they live and will be a burden quite often living off of social welfare systems, as they will not be healthy enough to hold down a full-time job.
Scientists estimate that obesity among children around the World will go up substantially over the next couple of years. Researchers approximate that by the year 2010, 50% of all children living in North and South America will be overweight with 38% of kids in the EU following suit. The rest of the World does not bode much better with Asia and the Middle East also expected to show an increase in the rate of obesity amongst children by 2010. For example, scientists estimate that in China, for example, 1 out of every 5 children will be overweight. The effect of the projected obesity rates are devastating with doctors saying that children living today with have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Some Gulf nations are, however, starting to take notice of the bulging bellies of their populations. In Dubai, for example, numerous schools have proposed sending letters to parents of overweight students warning them of the effects of obesity on their health. And in Kuwait, the government is currently considering banning adverts for junk foods in the local press and on TV. Hopefully, other nations in the GCC will follow suit and encourage a more healthful way of life for residents.