The Middle East Loves Fast Food?
Kuwait has transformed from a humble pearl-farming backwater into one of the world’s richest countries per capita, in the past decades. But, because of this huge success, over 2 million Kuwaitis are discovering that success could come with a price. In the most recent years, Kuwaitis waistlines have enlarged to make them among the most obese people on the planet. Almost 70% of Kuwait males over the age of 15 are overweight or obese, according to the WHO. Women, the numbers are even worse, with a little over 80%.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently ranked Kuwait 2nd to the United States on a league table ranking countries by the amount of food they consumed per capita to sustain being overweight. The country’s weight gain has led to an unprecedented rise in obesity-related health problems, like heart disease and diabetes. Believe it or not, other neighboring countries of Kuwait’s also appeared in the top 10, with Qatar coming in 4th, the UAE at 6th, and Bahrain in at 10th on the table. Many people attribute the weight problem to rapid changes in lifestyle propelled by oil revenues that have transformed Kuwait into prosperous modern consumer society.
Most importantly, among these changes has been the introduction of fast food. American fast food outlets arrived with the U.S. troops during the first Gulf War, becoming a permanent fixture on the country’s culinary landscape. Some have adapted their menus to cater to bigger appetites in the region, such as a best-selling Pizza Hut dish that features a cheese pizza with a cheeseburger crust.
McDonald’s restaurant, which opened its first outlet in Kuwait in 1994, now has 65 restaurants across the country.
But there are other factors contributing to Kuwait’s weight problem. The country’s harsh climate — in which daytime temperatures can reach over 122 F — makes it tough to start physical activity during the day, encouraging a sedentary lifestyle and car culture.
Kuwaiti culture also placed strong emphasis on eating at communal gatherings — with little value placed on moderation. “If you eat less, it means you didn’t like it and whoever invited you is not a good host.”
But while some are embracing a new fitness culture of marathons and gym membership, others are turning to more drastic measures. Stomach stapling procedures are becoming increasingly popular in Kuwait, with enough demand to prompt the country’s first conference for medical professionals involved in weight loss surgery last year.
According to a report in Businessweek, the number of bariatric surgeons in Kuwait has increased 10x over the past decade, with at least 5,000 patients receiving the procedure in Kuwait last year — compared with 3,000 in Canada, which has more than 30 times the population. The report added that the legal barriers to surgery in Kuwait are lower than in the United States.