Obesity a major health problem in Jordan

Sunday 19/02/2017
A woman uses a mix of olive oil and thyme as she makes a wrap for customers during an annual olive festival in Amman, on November 28th, 2013. (Reuters)

Amman - Jordan ranked fifth among the top “fattest” countries in the world in 2016 with 34.3% of the society considered overweight, higher than the United Arab Emirates, South Af­rica, Qatar, Mexico and the United States. Only Egypt, Belize, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were higher up the list, a report by the US Gazette Review stated.

Government health reports indi­cate that about 40% of Jordanian adults are overweight and child obesity stands at more than 50%.

“Of course we are fat. We don’t follow any logical system in our eating habits due to our unhealthy lifestyle. We simply do not have time to lead a healthy life because of work pressure and social obliga­tions,” said dietician Bochra Bitar who owns a diet centre in Amman.

“We all have excuses to eat un­healthy food. Eating late at night is a bad habit that contributes to obe­sity while having a negative effect on our children who are eating late dinners watching TV or playing on their computers.”

The International Diabetes Fed­eration said there were 374,100 new cases of diabetes reported in Jordan in 2015, mostly related to excessive weight gain.

“Obesity is a cause for diabetes and high blood pressure and Jor­dan is one of the countries that are largely affected. Globally, more than half a billion people are obese and most suffer from type 2 diabe­tes,” Bitar said.

She explained that obesity rates are measured using Body Mass Index (BMI), in which the body’s mass is divided by two times the subject’s height. If the result is less than 18.5, the person is under­weight, if it ranges between 18.5 and 24.9, the weight is considered normal while 25 to 29.9 rate means overweight, 30 to 34.9 it is obese (level 1), 35 to 39.9 (level 2), and higher than 40, (level 3).

Dr Bassem Hejazeen stressed that unhealthy eating habits among Jor­danian children lead to obesity.

“As a paediatrician, I face many cases of children who are over­weight due to bad eating habits at home, basically excessive con­sumption of sweets. Parents should pay more attention to the health of their kids at home and at school,” Hejazeen said.

“Sugary foods are a killer and the problem is that we all see our chil­dren eating sweets and we simply allow it without worrying about the damage it does to their heath. We need to have more awareness in the family and at school.”

In Jordan, almost twice as many women are considered obese as men.

“I joined the gym six months ago and I already feel healthier as my personal trainer is forcing me to follow a strict diet and an effective sports routine. I see many over­weight women in the gym who try hard to lose weight. Some are suc­cessful, others are not,” said Rasha, who said she is trying to get rid of several excess kilograms.

“Obese women suffer more espe­cially when they get pregnant and they are at risk of developing preg­nancy complications. In Amman, we rarely see awareness campaigns about obesity. Maybe we should have more organisations tackling such issues,” added the 28-year-old bank employee, who asked that her surname not be published.

However, not everyone can af­ford hiring a personal trainer, which cost up to $1,500 for 35 ses­sions.

“It is expensive and many try to make sense of all the machines at the gym by themselves and hope that the calories they gained the night before can be burned,” con­tends Laith Sawalhah, a person who goes to gyms but does not use a personal trainer.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Jordan have been trying to increase public awareness and promote the benefits of sports and leading a healthy life.

The Royal Health Awareness So­ciety (RHAS), an initiative by Jor­dan’s Queen Rania, introduced the Healthy Schools National Accredi­tation project with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Educa­tion in 2008. The project aims to create health-promoting environ­ments in schools that reflect posi­tively on students’ physical and social growth, as well as on their academic performance.

Run Jordan organises marathons and sporting events. “Our aim is to promote positive lifestyles and a healthy Jordanian society,” said Run Jordan General Manager Lina Kurd.

“Making running part of our dai­ly routine can guard against many illnesses. Some people do surger­ies, others depend on pills while many adopt the natural — and best — way which is sports,” she said.