The multidimensional effects of obesity
Two in three people in the Middle East are overweight or obese - Words by Cynthia Bou Khalil
Having a healthy weight is inherently connected to the proper functionality of the human body. Beyond the well-known physical effects obesity has on the body, the ailment also has different causal factors. These can include dietary, psychological and behavioural intricacies. Obesity is a complex condition that often arises as a result of several inherited factors, combined with a person’s environment and lifestyle choices, such as inactivity, unhealthy diet, caloric intake, as well as hormonal influences and metabolic rate.
Working as a nutritionist has helped me realise the importance of having an open line of communication and creating a safe space for my patients, especially those suffering from obesity, who often have feelings of failure after having tried one to many failed methods. Allurion, a high-tech medical device company that I consult for, began stressing the need for patient-friendly solutions provided by health care professionals. The company ran a study in 2018 in the region, which revealed that two in three people in the Middle East are overweight or obese but tend not to seek out help because they are too embarrassed to talk about weight loss, don’t think medical practitioners can help or didn’t know that they could seek help for such issues and most of all, are terrified of the surgical options. The end result? They continue to develop more debilitating and deathly health concerns. And, when asked about tried weight loss solutions such as dieting, fitness and supplements, the majority reported that they are less than satisfied with these methods.
No weight loss program will ever be a magic bullet, but an effective one is based on good healthcare and science. Using a multi-layered approach involving a positive lifestyle change and incorporating methods backed by healthcare professionals is needed to combat the disease as a whole and for a lifetime.
So, how do you know if you are obese? The Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to calculate obesity. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies adults with a BMI which equals or is over 25 as overweight and 30 as obese. Shockingly, Allurion’s Elipse Program, which uses a holistic approach to losing weight, recorded 93% of its female and 52% of the male users in the UAE had a starting BMI between 30 and 33.9.
This chronic condition affects the quality and quantity of one’s life, impacting everything from respiratory and reproductive function to brain activity, such as memory and even mood. Most common would be cardiovascular disease, as body weight is connected with the development of the issue. As body weight increases, so do cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and inflammation. All of these are risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke, cardiovascular death.
Another risk is developing type 2 diabetes, as obesity is a precursor for the condition. As obesity cases continue to rise worldwide, so do the incidences of type 2 diabetes. In 2019, the International Diabetes Federation reported that one in six adults in the UAE has diabetes. Furthermore, that same year, Zayed Military Hospital’s study conducted in the UAE and led by Professor Humaidan Al Zaabi, found that 4.7% of the patients were said to be suffering from the disease and that 41% of the patients displayed signs of impaired fasting blood glucose, an indicator of pre-diabetes.
The link between obesity and cancer is not as clear cut, due to the fact that cancer is a combination of different issues due to abnormal cell reproduction. However, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research did conclude in a 2007 study that there was substantial evidence to form a connection between obesity and cancers of the oesophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, breast, endometrium, and kidney, and a probable association between obesity and gallbladder cancer.
The bottom line is obesity can affect multiple parts of a person’s body and health. Losing weight, as surveyed in Allurion’s 2018 study in the MENA region, is a higher priority than all other facial or body concerns for obese and overweight people. And to combat a multidimensional disease, a multidimensional approach must be employed. The trick is to supplement frustration-free, non-surgical treatments with proper dieting and fitness.
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International Diabetes Federation, 2019. Prevalence of diabetes (20–79 years). IDF Diabetes Atlas – Middl East and North Africa.
Alzaabi, A., Al?Kaabi, J., Al?Maskari, F., Farhood, A. and Ahmed, L., 2019. Prevalence of diabetes and cardio?metabolic risk factors in young men in the United Arab Emirates: A cross?sectional national survey. [online] Available at: <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/edm2.81>.
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