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Diabetes in the Eastern Mediterranean and Gulf Regions
By Bianca Gersten
11/08/2007

The World Diabetes Foundation, based in Denmark, issued a press release in conjunction with The World Bank, which mentioned what was to be only the second major diabetes event in the Eastern Mediterranean and Gulf regions since the December, 2006 adoption of the United Nations Resolution on Diabetes. That resolution bound nations in an understanding that diabetes is a chronic, tragic and costly disease that impedes social and economic development.

The recent event was a health economics and diabetes conference held in Riyadh [Saudi Arabia] for three days, ending Monday. The conference addressed all aspects of the economics of diabetes, such as medical and social issues on several geographical levels. It was organized jointly by the Health Ministry of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the health ministers of the Gulf Council on Cooperation, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, World Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organization, World Diabetes Foundation and the World Bank.

According to the press release, geographical areas, such as the Gulf region, are facing pandemics of non-communicable diseases like diabetes due to their rapid economic development. This is because it is those areas of the world-like China, India and parts of the Eastern Mediterranean-which are quickly adopting Western lifestyles as their economies continue to grow. It is estimated that the demographics which will experience the greatest increase in the incidence of diabetes will be the economically-productive age groups (20-64 years). Lack of physical activity and increased caloric intake are the precursors to diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Low income countries are also at risk, however, as overconsumption of cheap, energy-dense food has become common place for those who cannot afford more nutritious options.

Obesity rates have tripled in many developing countries over the past twenty years. In the same areas, 10-25% of the youth population is overweight, with a prevalence of obesity at 2-10%. The press release also quotes estimates that almost 80% of the 246 million people with diabetes live in developing countries, and that, according to the World Bank, related non communicable diseases will be the leading cause of death in low-income countries by 2015.

Specifically, in Arab countries, indicators for overweight, obesity and diabetes are alarming. In Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain alone, the prevalence of diabetes is at 25%. The following are some statistical data that shed light on the prevalence of these dangerous conditions in the region.

Prevalence of Obesity among School Age Children, Kuwait (%)[1]

Unlike in Europe and North America, in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East regions, women, those who live in urban areas, and those with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to be obese. Part of the reason for this is cultural-notions of what is beautiful, for example. Additionally, it is these sectors of society who are least likely to engage in regular physical activity, and who are able to consume more food.

Prevalence of Obesity in Females (%)[2]

Prevalence of Diabetes in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (%)[3]

These figures can take a staggering economic toll. About 18 million people die every year from cardiovascular disease, and predictions are that diabetes prevalence for 2025 could cost $213-396 billion [in lost trained human resources and medical expenses]. In developing countries that figure will represent as much as 40% of total annual health care budgets.

Dr. Anil Kapur, Managing Director of the World Diabetes Foundation explained, “It is unacceptable that so much disability and death are caused by diabetes and its severe complications, when the solutions are clear and affordable. Small investments in prevention, awareness and care can improve the quality of life for individuals and bring about dramatic reductions in health-care costs and improvements in productivity.”


[1] al-Mousa Z, Parkash P. Prevalence of overweight and obesity among Kuwaiti children and adolescents. Bahrain Medical Bulletin, 2000

[2] Musaiger, Abdulrahman O. Socio-cultural factors affecting obesity in the Arab countries. Bahrain, Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research, 2003. The data in Jordan indicates that those who live in the cities are more likely to be obese; similar findings came out of research conducted in Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia and Turkey.

[3] World Health Organization. Guidelines for the prevention, management and care of diabetes mellitus. Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, 2006

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