Residents in Ras Al Khaimah are being called upon to lose weight as part of a challenge that offers up to Dh500 for every kilogramme lost.
The RAK Biggest Weight Loser Challenge began on Saturday, in association with the Ministry of Health and Prevention, and is open to all the emirate’s residents over the age of 18.
The 10-week programme aims to encourage participants to make positive changes in their lifestyles to prevent risks associated with being overweight.
“The main aim is to motivate UAE residents to re-route their dietary and exercise habits so that they lead a healthier lifestyle eventually,” said Dr Raza Siddiqui, chief executive of Arabian Healthcare Group and Executive Director.
“Ten weeks is a long time to build a habit, and I’m confident that once people experience the value of a healthy life, they will never go back to their old ways”.
Obesity is among the greatest health concerns in the UAE with some 70 per cent of men and 67 per cent of women aged 15 years or older considered overweight, the ministry said.
Unhealthy eating habits and socio-economic factors are among the largest contributors for growing obesity rates.
“Excess weight can cause many serious complications and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and sugar, high cholesterol and increase the chances of having strokes and heart diseases,” said Dr Ruba Elhourani, clinical dietitian at RAK hospital.
“Changing your lifestyle and eating habits can definitely help more than following a strict diet for a short period of time. Losing weight gradually is much better and heathier than losing weight fast and in a short period,” said Dr Elhourani.
Upon registration, participants will be examined by a doctor who will record their height, weight, BMI and blood pressure. Participants will be given a weekly diet plan along with a list of exercise suggestions. Their weight will be monitored every week and the final weigh in will be held at RAK Hospital. Two winners will be awarded the cash prize with runner up prizes including gym vouchers and annual health packages and spa vouchers at the hospital.
“The competition will encourage the participants to but more efforts and stick to the schedule and if they did follow the programme for 10 weeks it's most probable that it will become their new lifestyle and will get used to it more and more,” said Dr ElHourani.
“They can lose up to one kilogramme per week and it will be considered within the safe range of losing weight,” she said.
Losing her pregnancy weight, kick-starting a healthier lifestyle and being able to fit into her old dresses are just some of the reasons why Anu Mol is taking part in the challenge.
The 40-year-old mother-of-two used to weigh 65kg but gained 15kg after giving birth to her second child and says she is now struggling to shed the excess pounds.
“I work for long hours and I didn’t dedicate some time for exercising until last month when I started running around the neighbourhood for around 30 minutes but my food habits are still the same so I decided to take part in the challenge,” said Ms Mol, who works as a nurse.
“I am aiming to lose around 8 to 10 kg and follow their instructions. I don’t aim to find a fast solution instead I want to change my eating habits and live a better life with good health and a body that can fit in any dress,” she said.
Ms Mol said an old Indian tradition also contributed to her weight gain.
“My mother made me eat a lot while pregnant as part of the tradition and also after giving birth to help with breastfeeding.
“These are all old traditions that sometimes makes the situation worse. Also a lot of our traditional food contains bad carbohydrates and should be replaced with something healthier,” she said.
Another participant said she wasn’t incentivised by the money, rather hoped the challenge would help her kick-start a healthier lifestyle by losing the weight she has gained over the last six months.
“It’s not about the money it’s about becoming healthier and fit, and sometimes in order to accomplish those you need some competition and encouragement,” said Bareerah Sahir, a 26-year-old Pakistani medicine student.
“I used to weigh 57kg last August but now I’m 74kg.
“Our food contains a lot of carbohydrates and it should be controlled, therefore a diet that actually replaces the bad eating habits with good and healthy ones is the thing that I’m hoping to stick to forever,” said Ms Sahir.
The premise of the challenge is not new to the country. In 2013, Dubai Municipality introduced the 'Your Weight In Gold' campaign which encouraged participants to lose weight, offering at least a gram of gold for every kilogramme lost.
The incentive proved a success with more than 3,000 dieters shedding almost 17,000kg during the six-week challenge in its first year.