Populations in the Gulf have been rated as among the world’s fattest, according to a new United Nations report, with almost half of adults in Kuwait classed as obese.
The State of Food and Agriculture study said that rising obesity rates could cost the global economy $47trn over the next two decades, due to loss of labour productivity and fees associated with treating lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Kuwait led the way in highest proportion of obese adults in the GCC, with 42.8 percent falling into this bracket in 2008, followed by Saudi Arabia at 35.2 percent. In the UAE, 33.7 percent of the population were identified as having a serious weight problem, while in Qatar it was 33.1 percent and Bahrain 32.6 percent.
In terms of the Gulf, obesity was least prevalent in Oman, although at more than a fifth (22.1 percent), it was broadly in line with developed European countries.
The report said that the prevalence of overweight and obese adults was rising in nearly all regions, with the global average increasing from 24 percent in 1980 to 34 percent to 2008.
The countries with the world’s most endemic obesity problem were found in Oceania, with almost two-thirds (64.1 percent) of Cook Islanders falling into this category.
“Overweight and obesity... impose economic costs on society directly through increased health care spending and indirectly through reduced economic productivity. Most of the losses occur in high income countries,” the report read.
The UN study blamed rising obesity rates on factors including lower prices of food and increased availability of highly-processed food products, as well as genetic pre-disposition.
“The most immediate cause of overweight and obesity is overconsumption of energy relative to physical requirements, yet nutritionists have long recognised that this does not explain why some people consume more than they need,” the report added.
The GCC countries have some of the highest rates of lifestyle diseases in the world, with the International Diabetes Foundation last year forecasting that about 20 percent of the population is afflicted by the disease.
Overall spending on healthcare in the Gulf, according to figures from Deloitte, is just $1,200 per capita, compared to $5,000 in developed countries.