What Is Obesity?
Obesity is a health condition of excessive body fat or being overweight that affects millions of people worldwide. An individual with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more is generally considered to be obese, while a BMI from 25 to 29.9 is classified as overweight. Research shows that obesity increases an individual's risk of developing many diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and several types of cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 13% of the global population is obese and 39% is overweight.
Asian Countries with High Obesity Rates
With an obesity rate of 37.9%, Kuwait is Asia’s fattest nation, and the fattest in the Arabian Peninsula. According to the WHO, nearly 70% of Kuwaiti men and 80% of Kuwaiti women are overweight. Therefore, obesity and obesity-related problems are a significant health issue in the country. The high obesity rates in Kuwait have been attributed to the growing prosperity of the nation, whose economy is driven by oil, and has the highest per capita income in the world. Fast food chains from the United States (US) arrived in Kuwait during the first Gulf War, and now thrive throughout the country. In fact, some restaurants have created special menus to cater to the large appetites of Kuwaitis, and generations of Kuwaiti children are treated to frequent fast-food meals, which has led to high rates of childhood obesity. Additionally, the harsh climate and high daytime temperatures during summer also discourage sufficient levels of exercise. In recent years, the growing obesity rates in Kuwait have caught government and media attention, and steps have been undertaken to address the problem. Several programs, such as the Kuwait National Program for Healthy Living, have been implemented in an attempt to encourage healthy lifestyles in Kuwait.
The West Asian country of Jordan ranks as Asia’s second fattest country, with an obesity rate of 35.5%. Approximately 4 million people in the country are obese, and roughly 2 million suffer from diabetes. Additionally, nearly 50% of Jordan’s population has high cholesterol levels. Interestingly, obesity rates are lower among the educated and wealthy segments of the population, and higher among the poor and uneducated. Unhealthy food choices are primarily to blame for the high obesity rates in the country. In particular, the popularity of fast food chains has risen sharply in recent decades. Furthermore, the traditional Jordanian diet is rich in meats and sugar, but low in dietary fiber, which increases the accumulation of fat in the body.
Saudi Arabia has the third highest obesity rate in Asia, which is attributed to similar reasons as Kwait and Jordan. Unhealthy dietary habits and low levels of exercise are the leading causes of high obesity in Saudi Arabia. Obesity rates are also higher among women than men, which is at least partly explained by certain restrictions imposed on women, which prevent them from engaging in certain activities and results in more sedentary lifestyles.
Why Do Numerous Middle Eastern Nations Have High Obesity Rates?
The list of Asian nations with the highest obesity rates contains many countries located in the Middle East region. This may be explained by rapid urbanization in the Middle East due to booming oil economies, which has led to drastic changes in income and overall lifestyle in recent decades. For example, physical exercise is declining and the introduction of American fast food chains has become widespread. While the traditional Middle Eastern diet contains significant amounts of meat, oil, and sugar, the growing number of fast food restaurants has only worsened dietary habits. In addition, the availability of cars, household appliances, televisions, and computers have encouraged sedentary lifestyles in the wealthy nations. Taken together, these factors have contributed to high obesity rates in numerous Middle East countries.