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Tackling obesity through behavioral change

The Excellence in Paediatrics conference begins today at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, and we’re proud to be the Strategic Sponsor. The conference will include several sessions dedicated to childhood obesity, a growing health threat which we are serious about tackling in Qatar and the region. The Qatar Supreme Council of Health is aiming to combat this significant health concern. The government plans to implement Project 3.2 Nutrition and Physical Activity, with the aim of bringing about behavioral changes to reduce the rate of obesity.




Sedentary lifestyles, overeating, comfort eating and calorie-rich foods are often to blame for increasing obesity rates according to the Food Research and Action Center (Maryland, USA) but can the same be said for obesity in the Middle East?

According to Barbara Livingstone, Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Ulster, who will be speaking at the Sidra-sponsored Excellence in Paediatrics conference, “The causes of childhood obesity are as varied as the children it affects. Over 30 potential risk factors for childhood obesity have been described, although few are supported by good quality evidence. Heredity plays a role in childhood obesity but generally to a much lesser degree than many people might believe. Parental obesity is a well-established risk factor for childhood obesity, and for the persistence of obesity from childhood to adulthood. It has been suggested that having two obese parents increases the risk of being obese by a factor of 12 for boys and 10 for girl. Early life is important, too. Breastfeeding has been found to be protective against obesity in later life. Unfortunately, in many countries around the globe, this environment has become increasingly toxic to maintaining a healthy weight and has been labeled ‘obesogenic or obesity-causing,’ which includes sedentary behavior, lack of sleep and the quality and quantity of the diet. When added up, it’s tough for parents and their children to make the healthy choices that are so important to a good quality of life and a healthy weight.”




Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 and morbid obesity as having a BMI of over 40. Through tackling obesity in its early stages, the following short-term effects may be reduced:
• Breathlessness
• Increased sweating
• Snoring
• Difficulty sleeping
• Inability to cope with sudden physical activity
• Feeling very tired every day
• Neck and joint pains

In the long term, obesity is generally associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, asthma, liver disease and breast and colon cancers. With these disease complications, it will come as no surprise that obesity and morbid obesity reduce life expectancy by 2–4 and 8–10 years respectively.



Treatment and prevention

The Middle East is not the first region to have to tackle obesity. At an instalment of our Sidra Symposia Series last year, we collaborated with American colleagues to discuss interventions and consider health initiatives designed to address the growing problem of obesity.

Some ideas debated at the session included:
• Clear product labelling with nutritional information and advice (a tactic already used in Europe and North America) as a useful guide for the consumer.
• Creating a public service campaign for new mothers to learn how to balance the child’s need to eat and the parent’s desire to feed.
• Changing behavior and preventing the problem before it becomes an issue. Schools, families, and communities should work together to tackle obesity as early as possible.


Although these changes will take time to implement and it could be a while before we see dramatic results, the small changes can make a difference. Regular physical activity and healthy eating habits established in a child’s early years will endure for a lifetime, enabling them to stay fit and healthy well into their old age.


Inspired to make a lifestyle change? Start by checking your family’s BMIs using this calculator.