Run for your lives - obesity is gaining ground on us all

The epidemic of obesity can't be blamed on diet alone; sedentary lifestyles have become the norm for many Emiratis and expatriates.

Some headlines fill me with dread. Youth obesity: the UAE's big problem and Obesity higher among UAE women than men are good examples. How are we to react to these issues? In an ideal world, they would drive us towards creating one of the healthiest GCC or Arab societies. At least, they should increase gym membership.
Alas, there has been no such phenomenon. There are more cars on our roads than ever and the big winners remain the fast food chains.
Junk food outlets continue to multiply despite common sense. But let's not forget poster campaigns that promise cheap food, the offer of chances to win computer gadgets and catchy, if silly, slogans like the "Angry Chicken" burger.
According to a study at the Higher College of Technology, more than 60 per cent of Emiratis are overweight. An even greater concern is that UAE women rank fourth in terms of obesity worldwide.
All of these statistics have made me start to obsess about my own weight. In times of stress, I tend to pile on the sugars, although fortunately my hyperactive habits burn them off. But I am well aware that this is not exactly a healthy lifestyle.
My recent decision to join a fitness centre was motivated by the realisation that, as my metabolism inevitably slows with age, all of that sugar will have nowhere to go. I think if we all realised the consequences of this epidemic of poor health, we'd all be running to, and on, treadmills as soon as possible.
So what explains this trend towards becoming overweight? People blame traditional Emirati dishes, but let's be honest: these dishes have been passed on from generation to generation for decades, and I don't see many overweight old people. My grandparents are healthy, and others of their generation have never even been to the doctor or the dentist.
The difference between then and now is that we've become lazy. Most Emiratis, and many expatriates as well, live a comfortable and very sedentary lifestyle. Everything is tailored towards making our lives simpler, and many have domestic help with the chores. We've become so complacent that we can't even pack our own grocery bags or push our own trolleys.
So what sort of future are we facing if we continue down this path? We are certainly more prone to heart diseases, diabetes, depression and eating disorders.
Watching fast food outlets springing up all over town, it seems to make sense that the Municipality limit the number of business permits for franchise restaurants. Why is it so much easier to find a greasy spoon rather than a healthy alternative? Communities need to be consulted before more fast food outlets are opened in their neighbourhoods. I'm sure many would prefer to have a park or a basketball court instead.
Our educational system also needs to put more emphasis on sporting activities and encourage girls to get involved in all kinds of sport. On the domestic front, households should reduce their reliance on maids, and parents need to be ready to roll up their sleeves and do the dishes or the ironing.
A healthy lifestyle is not simply a matter of joining a gym. Many can't afford that, but they still require a certain amount of physical activity. Starving yourself isn't the answer either, and in any case exercising releases endorphins that make you happy as well as healthy.
Recently, Dubai launched yallawalk (www.yallawalk.com), a campaign aimed at promoting a more vibrant culture of walking among residents. More initiatives such as this, as well as individual efforts, need to be undertaken to improve our health and lifestyle.
For one, I like the fact that I can still walk between the aisles of an airplane and don't have to walk sideways just to "fit" in.
And if I seem to have a skip in my step, it's probably because I just finished exercising.
 
Aida al Busaidy is a columnist and former co-host of a Dubai television show

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