Lack of exercise and fast food has led to high levels of diabetes
Qatar, which has the highest per capita wealth in the world, is also the obesity capital of the world, with over half the population overweight, according to a report in the UK.
The energy-rich Gulf State, which was ranked by Forbes this year as the world’s wealthiest country, has seen an increase in obesity related health problems, according to a report in the UK’s Daily Mail.
Half of all adults in the state are classed as obese and 17 percent are suffering from diabetes, making it the most overweight country in the world, the report said.
By way of comparison, a third of Americans are classed as obese and eight percent suffer from diabetes.
An unhealthy combination of low levels of exercise and a growing popularity of fast food outlets has led to concern among local health activists.
“It's a very, very serious problem facing the future of Qatar,” Sharoud Al-Jundi Matthis, the programme manager at the Qatar Diabetes Association, was quoted as saying.
Qataris make up just 250,000 of a population of 1.7m and the government hopes the development of sport in the country, through the hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022 and bidding for the Olympic Games in 2020, will help boost interest in exercise and outdoor pursuits.
“Our main focus is encouraging people to be active, getting them to lead healthy lifestyles - that's our vision,” Maher Safi, marketing director at the Qatar Olympic Committee, said in the report.
“In the past few years, the committee has launched public programmes administering free body-mass indexes and sugar level tests, disseminated material about healthy eating, and introduced initiatives to schools to help children learn about new sports, like handball, tennis, and bicycling,” he added.
The issue of diabetes is a growing problem in the region, with the number of people suffering from the disease in MENA expected to double in less than 20 years, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) said in November.
Data from its global study indicates that the number of people living with diabetes is expected to rise from 366m in 2011 to 552m by 2030.
In the region, 32.6m or 9.1 percent of the population now have diabetes, the IDF said.
It added that this number is expected to double, with estimates suggesting that there are as many as 19.2m people undiagnosed.
The new regional figures also show that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the region for younger age groups is substantially higher than the global average.
The IDF said that by 2030, 11 percent of MENA, 59.7m people, will be living with diabetes.
It added that six out of the world's top ten countries with the highest prevalence of diabetes are in the region.
Dr Amir-Kamran Nikousokhan Tayar, MENA chair at IDF, said: "It is now more vital than ever that we adopt a multi-sectoral approach to tackling diabetes.
"We need to encourage governments in our countries to take a 'Health in All Policies' approach and encourage people, in particular parents, to educate themselves on the risks associated with diabetes and to know the signs."