Women in Gulf oil producers are suffering from obesity but they conceal their fat bodies under their traditional flowing black gowns, medical experts have said.
A surge in the rate of obesity in the Gulf, which has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, has given rise to a black market for slimming medicines, some of which are only exploiting people, they said.
Speaking at a medical conference in the western Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah on Tuesday, they also dismissed what they dubbed as “myths” that water and rice could cause fatness and that tight belt could cause slimness.
“The Gulf society is suffering from a rise in obesity, particularly in women, a problem that is partly disguised by the traditional black female over-garment worn in the Gulf….the abaya serves to hide the extent of obesity in Gulf women. In the same way, the male dishdasha (garment) also hides men’s bellies,” said Dr. Abdul Rahman Musaiqir, head of the Arab Center for Nutrition at Bahrain University.
In a paper presented at the two-day conference on nutrition in the Gulf, he warned against what he described as erroneous information in the media, “especially television, the Internet, and in women’s magazines”.
“All these have led people to try out incorrect methods to lose weight, and among the most popular myths in Gulf society are that eating rice and drinking water with meals increase belly size, grapefruit helps reduce fat, strapping up your belly reduces fat, sweating reduces fat, skipping breakfast helps weight loss, and that saunas help burn fat,” he said.
He added that other beliefs persist, such as that walking does not help reduce fat levels and that if excessive weight is hereditary nothing can be done about it.
“A healthy diet, exercise and proper nutritional information is my advice.”
Another specialist said the rise in obesity rates in the Gulf had created a “black market” for medicines and that trade was flourishing in herbs of unknown origin that “exploit people of limited medical knowledge.”
“A lot of people have started turning to alternative medicine and holistic medicine,” said Dr. Abdullah Al-Baddah from the Saudi National Center for Alternative Medicine.
“There are also other alternative complementary forms of medical treatment currently used to tackle obesity such as acupuncture, hypnotism, medicinal herbs and energy treatment, and we should make people aware of which practices are beneficial and which are not.”
In its report about the conference on Wednesday, the Saudi Okaz newspaper cited data by the World Health Organization showing Saudi Arabia has one of the largest rates of obesity at around 35.6 per cent, the third behind the tiny Pacific Island nations of Nauru at 78.5 per cent and Tonga at 56 per cent.
“Obesity is associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, gallbladder diseases and certain types of cancer,” the paper said, quoting Dr. Raja’a Al-Raddadi, a community medicine consultant and head of the research and studies department at the Jeddah Health Directorate.
Al-Raddadi said the prevalence of obesity in the Kingdom increased from 22.1 per cent in the early 1990s to 35.6 per cent in 2005.
“The growing epidemic of obesity can be explained by the rapid changes in dietary patterns and physical inactivity especially among women and girls.”
Traditional diets rich in grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables have been replaced with meals high in fats, sugar and sodium, she said.
“Saudis, especially females, also spend more time watching television and less time on physical activities. Reversing these trends requires drastic changes in individual behavior and the elimination of societal barriers to healthy lifestyle choices through some preventive health programs,” she added.