Obesity in the UAE is reaching super-size proportions, which is fuelling a boom in the diet industry.
According to information available from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the country is ranked second only to Kuwait in the Middle East in its table of the world’s fattest countries. Swiss healthcare company Hoffmann-La Roche conducted a survey recently, which found that more than 70 per cent of a random sample of 303 people in the UAE considered themselves overweight. Another estimate by health officials in the country puts the number of Emiratis who are overweight at 60 per cent of the national population.
But while those in the healthcare profession continue to issue regular warnings, the sale of low-fat products, healthy eating restaurants and nutritional home delivery food services are on the rise. As obesity levels soar, its cash-generating potential has never been so great for the diet industry.
And it is also a burgeoning global industry. Figures available in the US suggest consumers are spending an excess of $35 billion (Dh128.45bn) a year on diet products with annual sales of the low-carbohydrate Atkins Diet books, for instance, topping $200 million in 2007. While a definite figure does not exist, some US statistics estimate the total amount of consumer spending on dietary products to be more than the combined value of the government’s budget for health, education and welfare.
A survey of slimmers carried out recently by Virgin Money in the United Kingdom revealed it costs, on average, £148 (Dh1,068) to lose half a kilo of excess flab. If that is true, then those looking to shed 30kg will be almost £4,500 (Dh32,400) lighter.
According to data released by global market research firm Synovate, people from the UAE and Saudi Arabia were among the top users in the world for low-fat food products, herbs and supplements, meal replacements, weight loss courses, low-carbohydrate foods, diet plans, diet books, gym memberships, as well as home exercise equipment.
But eating healthily and staying fit does not come cheap, if you want professional help. At Right Bite, a healthy eating food delivery company based at the The Village Mall in Jumeirah, a months’ worth of food including breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks can cost in the region of Dh3,500, which does not include consultation fees.
Managing director Nathalie Haddad does not believe the services offered by her company are expensive. “We are cheaper than buying groceries and going out to eat and we are convenient, which is important when people are busy working and do not have the time to cook for themselves,” she says.
“We also ensure meals are delivered on time and with the right diet for the individual.”
Haddad believes the diet industry is like any other business and that if there is demand there will be supply. “Obesity is on the rise all over the world and companies are doing what they can to help people lose weight, eat healthy and most importantly teach them about nutrition. The diet business is like any other industry, but we are not trying to make money.
“What we provide is sustainable weight loss at a steady rate and in a convenient way.”
Thuraya Baalbaki the owner of Live’ly, another healthy food delivery company serving more than 2,000 clients, recently opened a café in Deira offering healthy foods. She thinks more people need to be made aware of the health issues surrounding obesity. “The consequences of obesity are increasing and people and the government are becoming more aware of this. We are just helping people rather than out to make money,” she says.
The Health Factory, which opened its doors last March, has also seen its client-base triple in the last four months, according to senior dietician Christina Abdo.
The diet expert attributes the company’s success to people’s increasing awareness of healthy eating and the much documented effects of a bad diet.
Mintel, a global supplier of consumer research, says in its report that for diet product vendors, the key to making healthy profits is tapping into effective dietary trends and not just passing fads.
“Levels of obesity and diabetes will continue to rise and as a result, there is likely to be an increase in the number of consumers trying to slim, which will prove beneficial for the diet market,” it says.
“The question therefore is not if dieting will continue, but which regime consumers will use to achieve their goals. For diet manufacturers, recognising which dietary trends are here to stay and which are passing fads is the key to success.”
I’d do it again
NAME: Wissam Younane
PROFESSION: Marketing Director
Wissam lost eight kilograms in two months after joining the Health Factory in Dubai. Although he has managed to keep most of the weight off in the four months since his food deliveries stopped, he says he wouldn’t hesitate to go back as it works and it’s convenient.
“I spent Dh2,300 a month on five meals a day when I first began. That was a special offer at the time, but it is more now. It sounds like a lot of money to spend every month, but I used to go to restaurants for lunch and dinner anyway and could spend up to Dh300 a day, so this was worth it. I also stopped eating out as much because I was dieting, so that saved money,” he says.
“I needed to lose weight and this was a convenient way to do it. I have a busy job and it was simple and hassle-free getting the food sent to me ready to eat.
“My wife did the plan too and it helped doing it together. She’s still doing it but I stopped once I reached my target weight. However, if I put on weight I would do it again – you just have to have patient.”
$35bn: estimated spending on diet products in the US last year
60%: percentage of Emiratis who are overweight
Dh1,068: the cost of losing 500g of excess weight if you use professional help
3,500: the average monthly cost in dirhams of a home delivery food service in Dubai