Besides being the world's richest nation, Qatar is also the fattest country on earth. The sedentary life of the peninsula is wreaking havoc on its public health system, which has come up with a new strategy to promote a healthier lifestyle.
As Doha’s hot weather is not too inviting for a run along the Corniche, most Qataris spend the day under air-conditioning units. In addition, the rapid development of the country in less than half century has sped up the arrival of fast food chains. The result is that half of the Qatari population is obese and about 16% of adults suffer from diabetes, according to a statement issued by Action on Diabetes (AOD).
That means that one out of six Qataris are diabetic, and, if the trend continues, the number could double before 2030. Moreover, Qataris are developing diabetes a decade younger than average, which in turn, is pushing up rates of illnesses like hypertension, partial paralysis, heart disease, and blindness. As a matter of fact, the effects of a sedentary lifestyle are impacting more people every day and putting more pressure on the public health system.
Recently, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) revealed that 80% of the National Health Strategy (NHS) 2011-2016’s objectives were accomplished, but the spread of non-communicable diseases caused by unhealthy lifestyles will continue to be the focus of the upcoming five-year strategy. The NHS 2017-2022 states that the top three risk factors for mortality in Qatar are overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels; combined, these factors significantly increase the chances of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease. As most of them are caused by unhealthy habits, the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, which includes physical activity, tobacco control, and a healthy diet, becomes critical.
Qatar has acknowledged that diseases related to an unhealthy lifestyle have become a public health issue. Consequently, several stakeholders from various industries are conducting initiatives to lower the alarming numbers through education, early detection, and intervention. In association with MoPH, Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) initiated an educational health outreach program called Your Health First (YHF), targeting both nationals and foreign residents. Over its duration, a diverse range of partners joined the campaign, namely Qatar Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Occidental Petroleum of Qatar, and Exxon Mobil. At the same time, Aspetar and Qatar University outlined the Qatar Physical Activity Guidelines 2017-2022 in a move to increase the focus on preventative healthcare and promote a healthy lifestyle.
With the public authorities and private employers on board, the third and most important pillar was to engage society, from schoolchildren to seniors. Keeping that in mind, MoPH launched the Public Health Survey 2017, an online public survey to seek Qatar residents’ opinions on health issues. Their feedback will be used to form the Public Health Strategy 2017-2022, which will address a wide range of 16 key health areas including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, road safety, occupational health, and quitting smoking, making it a comprehensive health policy.
Society’s further engagement with the healthy lifestyle agenda was demonstrated with the thousands of participants in the sixth edition of National Sports Day (NSD). NSD was set by decree of the Emir in 2011 as an annual national holiday on the second Tuesday of February to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Paradoxically, the country that aims to become a reference in the sport industry and attract international tournaments such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup is at the bottom of the world when it comes to sports. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), insufficient physical activity is one of 10 leading risk factors for global mortality. Qatar has laid out a number of facilities to host some of the best athletes on earth, which could serve as a platform to nurture local talent and promote sports and active lifestyles. With that infrastructure in place, Qatar has a wonderful opportunity to improve the health and well-being of its people.