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Good for you, good for business

Good for you, good for business

Workers in the Middle East are increasingly likely to be fat and suffer from diabetes. But while governments are waking up to this looming health crisis, employers have a role to play too, says Katherine Azmeh.

March 14, 2010 9:52 by

It would be hard to overestimate the influence of medical policy on the health of a nation’s economy. Its implications are so far-reaching and complex that, in the US, the issue steered a presidential election and weighed heavily on the report card for Obama’s first year in office.

The political makeup of many Middle East countries dictates that health care is not so much of a hot potato in the media. But the issue still has serious implications for society as a whole.

Firstly, health care is big business in the region. Organizers of this month’s Middle East Healthcare Expansion Summit in Dubai predict that the industry will be worth $60 billion by 2025. “No other region in the world faces such rapid growth in demand,” they claim.

But the predicted growth in spending is no particular cause for celebration, given the dire health problems in many Middle East countries.

Take the region’s severe obesity and diabetes problem. As Gulf News reports today, a whopping 75 per cent of UAE population is overweight. Around 18.7 percent of the population has diabetes, a figure expected to rise to 21.4 per cent by 2030, according to an expert quoted by the newspaper.

Professor Philip James, Chairman of the International Obesity Task Force and Director of the Public Health Policy Group (UK), says this is a problem affecting the Middle East as a whole. “Obesity has reached alarming proportions in the Middle East as over 45 per cent of women in the 15-49 age group are overweight or obese,” he says. “[There is a] need to tackle issues related to obesity more aggressively.”

But regional policymakers and influential royals are paying more and more attention to these worrying trends.

Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, highlighted the economic concerns of the emerging healthcare crisis in her keynote address at the recent Arab Health Exhibition and Congress in Dubai.

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