Overweight & Obesity

New data analysis shows troubling rise in obesity across the MENA region

According to a new, first-of-its-kind analysis of trend data from 188 countries released May 29 this year, more than 58% of men and more than 65% of women across the Middle East and North Africa were found to be either overweight or obese in 2013. Middle East Health reports.

Worldwide, prevalence of overweight and obesity combined rose by 27·5% for adults and 47·1% for children between 1980 and 2013. The number of overweight and obese individuals increased from 857 million in 1980, to 2·1 billion in 2013, according to disturbing new data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington

Increases were recorded in developed and developing countries, but with different sex patterns, according to the report. In developed countries, more men than women were overweight and obese, whereas in developing countries, overweight and obesity was more prevalent in women than in men, and this association persisted over time

More than three-quarters of the countries in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region had overweight and obesity rates of more than 50% among both men and women. Overall, there are an estimated 259 million overweight (180 million) or obese (79 million) people living in the region today.

The study, “Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013,” conducted by the IHME was published in The Lancet on May 29.

The authors write: “Unlike other major global risks, such as tobacco and childhood malnutrition, obesity is not decreasing worldwide. Obesity is already a major public health challenge in many middle- income countries, and tracking this important risk to health with increased precision and disaggregation in both developing and developed countries is a key global health priority.”

Overweight is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI), or weight-to-height ratio, greater than or equal to 25 and lower than 30, while obesity is defined as having a BMI equal to or greater than 30.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults in North Africa and the Middle East rose from nearly 53% to 62% over the study period. In 2013, the prevalenceof overweight and obesity in adult males was nearly 59%, while in females this prevalence was substantially higher, nearly 66%. Within this region, Kuwait experienced the highest prevalence for adults overall.

MENA region

“As a region, the Middle East and North Africa has done a tremendous job combating infectious diseases and improving child and maternal survival, but now we are seeing a very disturbing trend with obesity,” said Ali Mokdad, director of Middle Eastern Initiatives at IHME. “Obesity is growing unchecked throughout the region and threatens to undo the success the region has seen in improving health for the past three decades.”

Over the 33-year period of research, several countries in the Middle East showed the largest increase in obesity rates globally, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait. The top three countries with the greatest prevalence for obesity among men in 2013 were Qatar (44%) and Kuwait (43%), followed by Bahrain (31%). The prevalence of obesity among women exceeded 50% in three Middle Eastern countries – Kuwait (59%), Libya (57%), and Qatar (55%).

In most countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, overweight and obesity rates were higher than 50% percent among both men and women.

Qatari men (76%) and Kuwaiti women (84%) showed the greatest rates of overweight/ obesity prevalence in the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt, more than 71% of men and 79% of women were overweight/obese. Nearly three-quarters of Saudi women were found to be either overweight or obese, as were 69% of Saudi men. In Oman, prevalence of overweight/ obesity was 54% among men and 73% among women.

Being either overweight or obese is also a major health issue for Middle Eastern and North African children. Among children, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the region rose substantially from nearly 19% to 25% over the study period, making it the third highest regional prevalence in 2013.

Worst affected countries

The top three countries in the region with the greatest rates of overweight or obesity among girls include Kuwait (46%), Oman (42%), and Libya (42%). Among boys the countries with the highest rates are Qatar (34%), Libya (33%), and Lebanon (33%).

In Egypt, nearly one-third of boys and 40% of girls are either overweight or obese. Nearly 40% of Saudi girls are overweight or obese, as are nearly one-quarter of boys. When compared with the United States, where the greatest proportion of the world’s obese people live, obesity prevalence among Middle Eastern and North African women was the same, about 34%. However, a larger proportion of American men (71%) were obese than men in the Middle East and North Africa (59%).

“Obesity is an issue affecting people of all ages and incomes, everywhere,” said Dr Christopher Murray, director of IHME and a co-founder of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study. “In the last three decades, not one country has achieved success in reducing obesity rates, and we expect obesity to rise steadily as incomes rise in low- and middle-income countries in particular, unless urgent steps are taken to address this public health crisis.”

Worldwide problem

Looking at individual countries, the highest proportion of the world’s obese people (13%) live in the United States. China and India together represent 15% of the world’s obese population.

While the percentage of people worldwide who are either overweight or obese has risen substantially over the last 30 years, there have been marked variations across regions and countries. In developed countries, increases in obesity that began in the 1980s and accelerated from 1992 to 2002 have slowed since 2006. Conversely, in developing countries, where almost two-thirds of the world’s obese people currently live, increases are likely to continue.

The global study found that among children and adolescents, obesity has increased substantially worldwide. Between 1980 and 2013, the prevalence of overweight or obese children and adolescents increased by nearly 50%. In 2013, more than 22% of girls and nearly 24% of boys living in developed countries were found to be overweight or obese. Rates are also on the rise among children and adolescents in the developing world, where nearly 13% of boys and more than 13% of girls are overweight or obese.

 Date of upload: 14th July 2014


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