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Addressing the stubborn obesity challenge in Saudi Arabia

Chubby and weight problems—A rising problem in Saudi Arabia  

Chubby and weight problems, referring to physique mass index (BMI) over 25 and 30, respectively, are a rising international epidemic and one of many key public well being challenges right now. Most of the world’s population lives in nations the place chubby and weight problems have an even bigger impression on mortality and incapacity than underweight. The Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) proposes the elimination of all types of malnutrition in kids below 5, together with losing and chubby. The share of youngsters who’re chubby is among the few SDG indicators that has grow to be worse since 2015, particularly in countries such as Saudi Arabia.

The rise of chubby and weight problems has been notably alarming in Saudi Arabia—The speed has almost doubled over the previous 50 years. Like in lots of different Gulf Cooperation Council nations, fast financial growth and urbanization have introduced way of life modifications together with decreased bodily exercise and elevated consumption of extremely processed meals and drinks. Because of this, greater than 50 percent of the inhabitants in Saudi Arabia right now is chubby (Determine 1), and greater than 20 percent have weight problems.

Kids and adolescents are hit notably exhausting 

Whereas chubby and weight problems charges in Saudi Arabia are excessive throughout all age teams, they’re rising quickly amongst kids and adolescents. The crude prevalence of chubby/weight problems amongst these 5 to 19 years of age is among the highest on the planet at 36 p.c, twice the worldwide common in 2016. Whereas chubby and weight problems are traditionally increased amongst grownup girls than males in Saudi Arabia, there’s a reversal in pattern amongst kids and adolescents, with boys now having increased chubby and weight problems charges than women (Determine 2).

Determine 1. Proportion of the inhabitants who’s chubby within the Gulf Area nations

Supply: WHO, 2019

Determine 2. Crude prevalence of chubby and weight problems amongst Saudi Arabian kids and adolescents, ages 10 to 19 years, by intercourse

fig 2

Supply: WHO, 2020 

The excessive fee of chubby and weight problems in kids and adolescents is particularly regarding given {that a} third of Saudi Arabia’s inhabitants is below the age of 15, two-thirds are below 35, and the prevalence of chubby and weight problems and the ensuing problems will probably enhance additional because the inhabitants ages, if no motion is taken. Affected kids and adolescents typically carry the additional weight into maturity, resulting in lifelong well being issues. They’re at increased danger of early onset well being issues, together with kind 2 diabetes, hypertension, and sleep issues. It may also impression their psychological well-being by producing low vanity, melancholy, and social isolation.

The heavy burden of chubby and weight problems—an unaffordable value

Chubby and weight problems are among the many most vital determinants for non-communicable ailments (NCDs) corresponding to coronary heart illness, stroke, kind 2 diabetes, and sure sorts of most cancers and have just lately been related to worse outcomes in COVID-19. In Saudi Arabia, chubby and weight problems account for 27 p.c of all NCD mortality and 15 p.c of NCD-related incapacity within the kingdom.

Chubby and weight problems are costing the federal government around $3.8 billion in direct costs, equal to 4.3 percent of health expenses within the kingdom in 2019. The therapy of kind 2 diabetes is a giant driver of direct chubby/obesity-attributable prices. Round 7 million Saudis (24 p.c) are diabetic, whereas virtually 3 million have prediabetes. That is excessive in comparison with a worldwide diabetes prevalence estimated to be round 9 p.c in 2019.  

Chubby and weight problems even have substantial oblique financial implications and prices. They negatively impression human capital—the data, expertise, and well being that individuals accumulate to comprehend their full potential as productive members of society and contribute towards financial progress. A recent study estimated chubby and obesity-attributable absenteeism (absent from work) and presenteeism (working whereas sick) to value Saudi Arabia a complete of $15.5 billion, equal to 0.9 p.c of gross home product (GDP) in 2019.

How Saudi Arabia is preventing again

Below its “Imaginative and prescient 2030,” Saudi Arabia is aiming for a 3 p.c discount in weight problems and a ten p.c lower in diabetes prevalence by 2030. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia aims to be at the forefront of implementing interventions to handle the primary behavioral danger components of weight problems, corresponding to unhealthy diets and insufficient bodily exercise. It has already commenced by being one of many few nations that mandated menu calorie labeling in all meals service institutions, in an effort to assist customers make more healthy decisions. It additionally applied a 50 p.c tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and a 100% tax on power drinks in 2017 which already led to a 35 p.c decline in carbonated drinks gross sales. Moreover, it launched a number of voluntary and necessary measures to encourage firms to reformulate their meals and beverage merchandise to have much less salt, fats, and sugar.

Interventions to focus on kids are actually additionally being prioritized. Saudi Arabia allowed bodily schooling in colleges for women for the primary time in 2018 and launched a promising weight problems prevention program for varsity kids known as “Rashaqa” which goals to enhance dietary habits, enhance bodily exercise, and supply preventive and therapeutic providers to chubby and overweight college students or choose major and secondary colleges throughout Saudi Arabia.

Planning for extra is within the works. Extra measures at present into consideration embrace adopting a nutrient profiling mannequin as a normal guideline for nutrition-related insurance policies together with front-of-package labeling corresponding to diet warnings or site visitors mild labels. The goal is to be on the forefront globally of tackling weight problems by 2030 and mitigate the excessive well being and financial burden earlier than it will get worse.


Addressing the chubby and weight problems epidemic is crucial to attaining the well being and financial targets outlined in Saudi Arabia’s “Imaginative and prescient 2030”. Additionally it is crucial to attaining a number of of the SGDs targets, particularly targets 2.2 on lowering the prevalence of malnutrition amongst kids below 5 years of age and three.4 on lowering untimely mortality from non-communicable ailments. Effectiveness and success would require continued concentrating on of interventions throughout the life course of the inhabitants continued prioritization of prevention over therapy; a dedication and mechanism to work throughout sectors, and a specific emphasis on implementation, monitoring, and analysis. If profitable, Saudi Arabia has the potential to considerably enhance general well being, cut back the NCD burden and protect Saudi Arabia’s subsequent era’s human capital.

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