WHO says Oman leading charge against NCDs
From smoke-free souqs to lowsalt bread, businesses and communities in Oman are leading the charge against non-communicable diseases (NCDs), like heart and lung diseases, cancer, and diabetes, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Guided by the Nizwa Healthy Lifestyle Project, Oman’s oldest community-based project founded in 1999, many layers of society - from the national consumer protection authority and municipal authorities to businesses - have joined forces to reduce risks that cause NCDs.
“Everything is going well. We will set a goal to disseminate these initiatives and put in place more examples all over Oman,” says Dr Zahir al Anqoudi, head of the NCDs section at Oman’s Ministry of Health and a member of the Oman Anti-Tobacco Society.
Earlier this year, the Nizwa project launched two new innovative health promotion activities: the ‘Tobacco-free souq’ in the open-air Nizwa traditional market, and the Healthy Restaurants Initiative.
Uniting people and leaders from different sectors behind a common goal to intensify action to improve the health of Omanis has been part of WHO’s work. “Such collaboration has resulted in significant reduction of salt consumption. Reducing salt content in food was a measure supported by many local food producers, particularly Oman’s main bakeries, who supply 90 per cent of all bread products,” the organisation said.
Since 2015, Oman has been successful in achieving a ten per cent reduction of salt content in bread items within main bakeries. In 2016, this initiative established a more ambitious objective of 20 per cent salt reduction in breads and broadened its focus to cheese as well. The estimated average intake of salt consumption in Oman is close to 10g per person per day. This is double WHO recommendations.
More than 50 per cent of Omani men and women are overweight or obese, more than 40 per cent have hypertension, and 12 per cent have been diagnosed with diabetes. One in five Omanis dies before their 70th birthday, most from largely preventable cardiovascular diseases. “In Nizwa, establishing a tobacco-free souq was the next big step in tobacco control following its indoor smoking ban issued in 2010. A survey conducted by local volunteers in 2016 found near unanimous support for the smoking ban by community members, business owners, local visitors and international tourists alike,” WHO stated.
The second step under consideration is ban on sale of tobacco products in the market, Dr Anqoudi told Muscat Daily. “We are working on having such a ban. We are also in talks with the authorities to expand the smokefree souq concept to other governorates.”
The Healthy Restaurants Initiative is a first for Oman and one of the few of its kind in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. Three restaurants have volunteered to pilot locally-developed guidelines for healthy food options on their menus that are low in salt, fat and sugar. “Currently we are providing training to chefs and food handlers on healthy food preparations,” Dr Anqoudi said.
“It’s encouraging to see such genuine commitment from the food and beverage industry in Oman to try to work towards making a change for the betterment of health,” said Dr Asmus Hammerich, director of NCDs in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office.
The launch of the initiative at Nizwa Souq