Note: This blog post first appeared on Dawn.com
I had read about it and I had heard about it – that awful thing called the ‘Dubai stone’. Expats of perfectly normal weight would move to the emirate and because of what is called living ‘the good life’, overeating and having a sedentary lifestyle, they gain about seven kilos of pure fat.
A typical resident of Dubai is surrounded, nay bombarded, by advertisements for unhealthy food choices. Children and adults are lured by the ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ offers on chocolates, cookies and chips inside malls and at grocery stores. Lavish ‘all-you-can-eat buffets’ offering authentic delicacies from just about anywhere in the world tempt the most moderate eaters to over-indulge. What is more, all shopping malls have huge food courts which promote the fast-food culture and can ‘up-size’ people in no time. The searing heat discourages outdoor activity, and taking your car everywhere means that the only notable walking you do is inside the malls.
Obesity in children and adults is becoming common in Dubai as one often comes across children as young as four or five who have gained large amounts of weight due to inadequate physical activity. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the UAE has the highest rate of diabetics in the GCC countries and the second highest rate of diabetics in the world after Nauru (a tiny Pacific island nation). About 19.5 per cent (or 1 in 5 persons) of the population is diabetic.
The government of UAE has taken note of the issue and an initiative to combat diabetes was launched last month on World Diabetes Day. A ‘Beat Diabetes’ walk with more than 7,500 participants took place, led by none other than Wasim Akram.
Experts believe that the lifestyle this seemingly-glamorous city offers is largely to blame. Grueling, highly stressful long work hours mean that people grab unhealthy meals such as a burgers, fries and soft-drinks on the go. It is readily available, and much more satisfying than, say a grilled chicken salad.
Another way to keep fit (and keep that so-called Dubai stone at bay) is by playing a sport regularly. A bit of G
oogling, a few phone-calls and some research reveals that memberships and lessons to learn sports in the city can cost a handful! For instance, a single private tennis lesson for non-members of sports and recreational clubs can cost around AED 245. While Dubai boasts of some of the finest sports clubs in the world, offering world-renowned coaches and breathtaking venues, it is ironic that only a certain fraction of the population can afford to be associated with these exclusive establishments. Granted, there are free public parks which have good facilities, but the playing courts are usually full in acceptable weather. Just a few days ago I persuaded a friend of mine to play a round of tennis with me at a public park. My deplorable serve (and my ego) took a serious bashing – more so because of the tennis pros clad in immaculate tennis whites, standing outside the court, waiting impatiently for us to finish our ‘match’ – all the while wondering what I was doing with a tennis racket in my hand!
It must be noted however, that the ‘Dubai stone’ is merely a figure of speech, for one can gain excess weight in any part of the world if one follows an unhealthy lifestyle. In fact, in Pakistan obesity (and the diseases related to it, such as diabetes) is on the rise, in the affluent as well as poor communities. Moreover, the Diabetes Association of Pakistan (DAP) recently revealed that about seven million people in the country are suffering from Type 2 diabetes. The need of the hour is to combat these epidemics by making sure we opt for healthier food choices and inculcate the right eating habits in our children, and set admirable examples for them to follow.
Mehmudah Rehman is a freelance writer based in Dubai.