Au­thor calls for more sin taxes and sub­si­dies for healthy foods


LON­DON: Arab chil­dren are among the most obese on the planet ac­cord­ing to a new study pub­lished in the Lancet.

The world-fa­mous med­i­cal jour­nal re­vealed that roughly one in five kids in the re­gion are obese.

The find­ings are part of a vast study us­ing more than 40 years of data.

As many as 19.7 per­cent of Saudi boys are clas­si­fied as obese — com­pared to just 1.3 per­cent in 1975. About 14.2 per­cent of girls in the King­dom are thought to be obese com­pared to 1.2 per­cent in 1975.

There is a sim­i­lar pic­ture in the UAE with 18.5 per­cent of boys de­scribed as obese and 14.7 per­cent of girls.

More than 19 per­cent of Egyp­tian girls are also con­sid­ered obese com­pared to just 2 per­cent in 1975.

The Mid­dle East recorded one of the largest ab­so­lute in­creases in the num­ber of chil­dren with obe­sity. Back in 1975, the start­ing point for the study, the preva­lence of obe­sity in chil­dren across the re­gion was less than 5 per­cent.

The num­ber of obese chil­dren and ado­les­cents glob­ally rose to 124 mil­lion in 2016 — more than 10 times higher than the 11 mil­lion clas­si­fied as obese 40 years ago, in 1975.

Dr. James Ben­tham, one of the au­thors of the study, said that the in­crease could be put down to a rise in un­healthy life­styles and peo­ple be­com­ing less mo­bile.

“What we’re see­ing is that in mid­dle-in­come coun­tries like those in the Mid­dle East, Latin Amer­ica, China, South Africa, the rates of obe­sity are go­ing up much more quickly than in high­in­come coun­tries like the US and France,” he told Arab News.

“We know that it must be due to a com­bi­na­tion of more calo­ries be­ing con­sumed and less ac­tiv­ity.

“There’s been a gen­eral move glob­ally to­ward car­bo­hy­drates and sugar, and to­ward larger por­tion sizes. At the same time, car own­er­ship has gone up hugely over 40 years in the Mid­dle East for ex­am­ple — this means that peo­ple are do­ing far less ex­er­cise.”

Gulf states such as Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE have hiked taxes on sug­ary drinks this year in an at­tempt to tackle a re­gion­wide obe­sity epi­demic.

World­wide, there has been a more than ten-fold in­crease in the num­ber of chil­dren and ado­les­cents with obe­sity in the past four decades, in­creas­ing from five mil­lion girls in 1975 to 50 mil­lion in 2016, and from six mil­lion to 74 mil­lion boys.

Due to the link between child­hood obe­sity and ill­ness late in life, Ben­tham stressed the need to com­bat the prob­lem, em­pha­siz­ing that it would not be easy.

“The les­son is that there is a se­ri­ous obe­sity prob­lem (around the world). We need to make un­healthy foods less at­trac­tive — this could be by putting taxes on them, re­strict­ing ad­ver­tis­ing, and through pub­lic in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns,” he said.

“At the same time, we need to make health food at­trac­tive — this could be through sub­si­dies, for ex­am­ple.

“We hope that peo­ple will act, given how se­ri­ous child­hood over­weight and obe­sity is for th­ese chil­dren’s fu­tures.”

As many as 19.7 per­cent of Saudi boys are clas­si­fied as obese.

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