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Saudi wants to trim waists of overweight population

Written by: Staff

RIYADH, Mar 6: Saudi Arabia has launched a battle to trim waistlines in its overweight population, which has become one of the world's foremost ''obese societies'', a seminar heard this weekend.

American-style fast-food restaurants are part of the fabric of modern life in Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter with a mostly affluent population of around 24 million.

Statistics released at a Health Ministry conference on Saturday showed that obesity affected 51 percent of Saudi women and 45 percent of men, as well as 29 percent of teenage girls and 36 percent of boys.

The government says there is a specific danger to children, who can now make use of special telephone help lines.

''There are specific social practices which cause certain illnesses,'' television presenter Abdullah al-Fozan told the meeting, describing Saudi Arabia as an ''obese society''.

Health experts say a spiralling increase in diabetes and other illnesses among Gulf Arabs has been the price of a rapid modernisation of their desert states.

Most nationals of the wealthy oil producing region have switched to a Western-style sedentary life from a physically demanding nomadic existence over the last 50 years.

WEIGH YOUR LIFE The new campaign to eat more healthily and exercise -- ''Weigh your life'' -- has been launched in the Saudi media with the help of prominent public figures who have had noted battles against weight gain.

''There is desire to eat and there is appetite for food and they are two different things. It is the desire that is the problem and you have to use your mind to get over it,'' television presenter Turki al-Dakhil said.

Dakhil was plugging a book, ''Memoirs of a Former Fatty'', which catalogues his life as a 185-kg media personality who had to book two seats for himself on international flights to the United States.

He is now less than 100 kg.

''The overweight face the task of changing some eating habits and spending less time in front of the television and computers. A lack of physical exercise is making it worse,'' Health Minister Hamad al-Manei wrote in the daily al-Jazira this week.

However, Saudi primary and secondary schools do not allow physical education for girls because of opposition from hardline clerics who consider it inappropriate for women.

Saudi Arabia's powerful religious establishment imposes the strict Wahhabi school of Islamic law.


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