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Bahrain Starts Battle of The Bulge

Companies could soon be asked to reduce food portions in their staff canteens as part of an initiative to tackle , which now affects more than a third of all people in the Gulf.

More than 30 to 35 per cent of people in the GCC are obese, which is far higher than the 20 to 22 per cent of people in the US – a country that has been battling weight problems for years.

The lack of a comprehensive programme to tackle the problem here means the numbers will continue to rise, warned Arab Taskforce for Obesity and Physical Activity chairman Professor Abdulrahman Musaiger.

However, a new campaign to tackle the problem is expected to be approved at a major conference that got underway in yesterday.

‘The main reason for obesity in the Gulf is because physical activity is very low and people are eating foods that contain a high amount of calories and fat and they have less fibre and fruits and vegetables in their diet,’ he told the GDN.

‘The home environment is a problem because people spend more time watching TV than being active and families have the habit of eating outside, especially for supper, and it is usually fast-food.

‘There is no problem in having fast-food, but the portion size is a problem.’

Professor Musaiger said awareness of how to reduce obesity was very low and people often resorted to fatty diets and health regimes that were not successful in the long run.

‘We need to educate parents and integrate them with the school because bad lifestyle starts in the home, then it goes to the school and then the community,’ he added.

‘Many people don’t know for example that samboosa contains more calories and fat than chocolate.’

Professor Musaiger was speaking at the Third Arab Conference on Obesity and Physical Activity, which opened at the Gulf Hotel yesterday.

The three-day event is organised by the Arab Centre for Nutrition, Arab Taskforce for Obesity and Physical Activity and BCSR.

The objective of the conference is to explore recent studies and research on preventing, controlling and overcoming obesity and encouraging physical activity.

It is also examining factors associated with obesity and reviewing successful programmes implemented in Arab countries to tackle the problem.

Participants include doctors, nutritionists, physical education specialists, health educators and marketing specialists.

Professor Musaiger said a strategy to reduce obesity would be launched at the event.

‘We will ask companies to participate by reducing portion sizes in their canteens and giving more information on food and drink labels,’ he said.

‘We will get schools to study the subject and to control the food provided to schools.’

He revealed that in the Arab world, three to four per cent of children less than six years old suffer from being overweight or obese.

The problem increases as children get older with eight to 12 per cent of six- to 10-year-olds and 12 to 45 per cent of 11- to 18-year-olds struggling with weight and obesity problems, added Professor Musaiger, who is also Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research (BCSR) scientific studies assistant secretary general.

More than 25 to 60 per cent of men and 30 to 70 per cent of women in the Arab world are overweight or obese.

‘We see that most families consume fast-food at the weekend,’ he said.

‘They also spend most of their time doing sedentary things such as watching TV, visiting family, going on the Internet, going to the cinema, going for a cruise in the car and exercise is way down the list.

‘From a study done in Kuwait, we found that 55 per cent of all obese people eat while watching TV.

‘We found sweets, chocolates and fizzy drinks were the most common items consumed when watching TV.

‘It is imperative parents add health food to their children’s diets while they are watching TV.’

Children to be educated in healthy living

A strategy to reduce the number of obese and overweight children is being drawn up by the government, it has emerged.

More than 30 per cent of school age children are overweight and obese and the number is increasing daily, Health Ministry school health chief Dr Mariam Harmas Al Hajeri told the GDN.

She revealed that the Health and Education ministries were now putting together a comprehensive strategy for diet and physical activity aimed at tackling the problem in schools.

It is hoped the plan will be finalised and implemented later this year.

‘We must all work together, the community with parents and schools to reduce this big problem,’ said Dr Al Hajeri.

‘Children’s lack of exercise, bad diet, watching TV and going on the PlayStation is making overweight and obesity a big challenge.

Dr Al Hajeri said the ministry’s nutrition section had already introduced a healthy eating plan in primary schools and hoped it would be expanded to intermediate and secondary schools.

Part of the plan is educating schools about what makes a healthy diet and preventing certain unhealthy foods and drinks from being sold in the canteen.

Dr Al Hajeri was speaking on the sidelines of the Third Arab Conference on Obesity and Physical Activity, which opened at the Gulf Hotel yesterday.

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