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Supersize M.E. for McDonald’s
The fast food chain reports a 3.4 percent surge in Middle East sales – amid mounting concern over obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the region.
January 25, 2010 5:16 by Ben Flanagan
McDonald’s has reported a 3.4 percent increase in sales in the Middle East and Africa, reflecting a year of strong worldwide growth in which the fast food giant served 60 million customers a day – two million more than in 2008.
Growth in the MEA region was greater than that in the US, where sales rose by 2.6 percent. Turnover in Europe grew by 5.2 percent in 2009, far exceeding the average global rise in sales of 3.8 percent.
News of the fast food giant’s increasing popularity is likely to raise some concern among professionals gathered at the Arab Health 2010 exhibition, which starts today.
The Middle East has some of the highest worldwide rates of potentially fatal conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Some have pointed to the growing popularity of fast food as being a factor in the looming health crisis in the region. Many fast food chains – including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King – operate in the Middle East.
According to estimates, 71 percent of the Emirati adult population is obese – and the World Health Organization (WHO) forecasts that the number of obese Emirati women will rise to 81 percent by 2015. More than 50 percent of children in the UAE are obese.
Diabetes prevalence in the Middle East is among the highest in the world. In Saudi Arabia, around 24 percent of the population is affected by diabetes. WHO figures suggest that more than 2.5 million people living in the Kingdom could have the disease by 2030.
The WHO has said that the consequences of nutritional disorders in the region were “too grave to be ignored”, calling for urgent action to combat obesity and diabetes.
Aside from diet, other factors – such as lack of exercise, smoking and genetic disorders – also contribute to health problems.
McDonald’s did not provide an immediate response when contacted via its public relations agency. Like elsewhere in the world, McDonald’s has taken steps to offer more healthy menus, and offers its salad products in many Middle East restaurants.
The region’s first McDonald’s was opened in the Middle East in Riyadh in 1993, followed by the launch of the franchise in the UAE.