Fast Food Imports are Linked to Rising Obesity in Persian Gulf

Mink/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two recent articles about the rising obesity problem in the Persian Gulf point to the exporting of our fast food culture as a cause.

The first is Peter Savodnik’s article for Bloomberg Businessweek. He details how fast food restaurants expanded in Kuwait to meet soldier demand after the First Gulf War. It turned out Kuwaitis loved American fast food and the number of restaurants increased along with their waistlines.

Part of the problem is that the unbearable heat from April 1 to Dec. 1 is conducive to a sedentary lifestyle. There aren’t many outdoor activities anyone wants to participate during those months from the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To slim down Kuwaitis are turning to stomach stapling. In ten years the number of bariatric surgeons in Kuwait has risen from two to twenty, and there are estimates that thousands of stomach-stapling procedures are being done each year. According to the article, 5,000 people in Kuwait underwent the procedure last year.

That number is unsettling when you compare it to Canada (with 30 times the population of Kuwait) where 3,000 people underwent the procedure last year. Stomach-stapling is so popular that there’s a two-to-three year wait for the procedure-done for free-at a state-run hospital where patients only have to buy the staples.

Last year’s article by Haley Sweetland Edwards for The Atlantic paints a similarly grim picture of Qatar. A country the size of Connecticut is now the richest and fattest nation on Earth. About half of adults and a third of children in Qatar are obese, and 17 percent of the native population suffers from diabetes.

Haley Sweetland Edwards’s article doesn’t pin the blame primarily on fast food. Instead, it spreads the blame around on things like genetic disorders, affluence, cultural traditions, inter-marriage between close family members and cousins, and urban development that isn’t conducive to walking.

There are signs that the government is trying to address their looming health problem by building parks, sidewalks, and pedestrian crossings, launching awareness campaigns, and even installing exercise equipment for public use.

As the non-native Qataris interviewed point out: the subsidized lifestyle people in Qatar enjoy is conducive to sitting around eating junk food and going from air conditioned cars to air conditioned offices and homes.

Do you think the obesity problem in the Persian Gulf is a direct result of fast food consumption, or is it the culture of wealth that is leading to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles?

Tags: Health | Urban Planning

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