Obesity struck America, and now it’s striking the Middle East

It’s not breaking news. A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study presented a tie between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. in the prevalence of obesity in adults: 33 percent nationally.

“Over the last two decades, the influence of the Western world has led to an increased consumption of fast foods and sugar-dense beverages (e.g., sodas),” according to King Saud University’s Obesity Research Center page. “Simultaneously, technological advances — cars, elevators, escalators, remotes — have lead to a decrease in our level of activity. Our traditional dependence on locally grown natural produce such as dates, vegetables and wheat has also shifted.”

King Saud University’s update coincided with the publishing of a recent New York Times article, which reported a 43 percent drop in obesity rates among U.S. children between ages 2 and 5.

“About eight percent of two- to five-year-olds were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004,” said Sabrina Tavernise in an article for The New York Times released on Feb. 26.

Although organizations like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign are aiding in the fight against child obesity, America still remains 18th on the list of countries with the prevalence of adult obesity, according to the CIA World Factbook.

While the U.S. adult obesity rate continues to fluctuate between 33 and 36 percent, in Gulf countries there has been a sudden increase in obese individuals, alarming many.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the Middle East is home to five of the world’s top 20 obese nations.

In 2012, the advertisement of Pizza Hut’s Crown Crust Cheeseburger Pizza was a classic example of Middle Eastern nations opening up to major fast food chains.

As a result, restaurant chains have began to explore franchising opportunities in the Middle East.

“When my family, friends and I first saw ‘Kuwait’ on the list (of most obese countries), it seemed a little out of the blue,” said Jonathon Spiel in an article for The New York Times. Spiel founded Tea Lounge, a small bar and restaurant residing in Brooklyn, which opened a franchise in Kuwait in 2012.

The Kuwait-based Al-Arbash Group originally sought out Spiel to propose the possibility of franchising in Kuwait. In response, the Tea Lounge changed some of its policies to suit the new climate through the removal of alcohol and live bands. The decision to franchise in the Middle East follows the trend set by major fast food chains in the U.S.

“Fast food continues to be the most valuable within consumer foodservice in Saudi Arabia, posting further growth of nine percent in current value over the previous year,” according to Euromonitor International.

Global Research concluded that over 80 percent of McDonalds’ restaurants are franchised. The increase in the distribution of foods with high sugar and fat content correlates closely with the recent skyrocket in adult obesity in Saudi Arabia.

 

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