Obesity, surgery and the red lines we keep ignoring

​​​​​​​In the battle against obesity, there is always an extra mile to be walked

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - February 4, 2009: An obese couple walks down Zayed the First street in Abu Dhabi. ( Ryan Carter / The National )

obesity overweight obese fat

As The National reports today, doctors recently successfully performed bariatric surgery on an Emirati patient who weighed more than 280kg. According to those treating him, the patient had not left his home in the past five years and could barely walk more than a few paces.

He had a gastric sleeve procedure, during which much of the stomach pouch is removed to facilitate accelerated weight loss. He is expected to lose 20kg in the first month after surgery and a further 80kg over the next few months.

His story is painfully familiar in a region with high rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, in July alone, 63 patients underwent procedures like his at the hospital where he was treated.

When considering obesity in general, several questions arise: where is the line between personal effort and medical responsibility when obesity becomes life-threatening? What help is there before one reaches a critical state?


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While the chief culprits for increasing obesity rates worldwide are a decline in physical activity and an increase in the intake of processed foods, these issues are especially problematic in a region where the heat of the summer makes lifestyles especially sedentary at this time of year.

The GCC countries rank in the top 15 countries for obesity. The rate of diabetes in parts of the Arabian Peninsula is more than twice the global average. While Europeans, for instance, engage in "circumstantial" movement on a daily basis – these may be simple but vital acts, like having to walk considerable distances to or from bus stops or up and down flights of stairs at train stations – we have to consciously ensure we set aside time to exercise.

But while maintaining a minimum number of minutes’ exercise per week and resisting the countless temptations around us is an uphill battle, damage control can be achieved. It has been said time and time again, and is worth repeating, that small changes make all the difference. Even if minor lifestyle modifications don’t result in an ideal physique, they will help reduce the rate of non-communicable diseases in the long run.

The country is constantly creating and upgrading avenues for exercise. The shockproof walkways spanning the coast of Dubai’s Kite Beach are just one example. To beat the summer heat, several malls in Abu Dhabi and Dubai developed healthy living initiatives, with indoor walkathons on weekdays and yoga classes in the morning before shops open their doors for the day.

In a region where weight loss is a multi-million-dollar industry, resorting to drastic measures is often seen as the easy way out. Giving up should not be the option. Healthy living should not be the "extra mile", and self-discipline when it comes to conscious eating is what we owe ourselves.