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Fighting a global pandemic: It’s time to think differently about obesity

Despite global efforts to stem the obesity epidemic, no country has succeeded in decreasing obesity in the last 33 years. Global obesity has more than doubled since 1980, with almost 30 percent of the population overweight or obese.
In the Middle East, obesity rates among adults are exceptionally high at more than 37 percent in Kuwait and more than 35 percent in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, according to the latest WHO figures.
Experts said that one problem is that most campaigns to combat the disease have overly simplified obesity by focusing on healthy eating and exercise, when the reality is that obesity is not a lifestyle choice, but a chronic disease with complex origins.
Weight bias is society’s last acceptable form of discrimination and is largely driven by limited understanding of obesity, said Dr. Nadia Ahmad, founding director of the Obesity Medicine Institute in Dubai and senior adviser for obesity solutions at Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Middle East.
Environmental, social, dietary factors and aspects relating to common medications, stress and sleep can all play a role so there is no “one size fits all” approach to combatting obesity, she added, speaking during a webinar organized by Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices (JJMD) to explore the science and societal aspects that underpin obesity.
A growing body of research supports the concept of “set point,” which posits that regardless of what you would like your weight to be, your brain has its own sense of how much body fat you should retain and regulates energy intake and expenditure to maintain levels within a “set point” range.
Measures to introduce healthier food options at schools, to tax sugary drinks and to encourage people to exercise are all important steps toward promoting a healthy lifestyle, but some individuals still struggle to lose weight based on lifestyle modification alone and may require pharmacotherapy and metabolic surgery.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is at the epicenter of an obesity and diabetes crisis, according to Dr. Karl Miller, chief medical officer at JJMD Middle East and vice president of the Obesity Academy Austria. There are 318,000 deaths caused by diabetes each year in the region alone.
The rising social and economic burden of obesity requires a new approach to tackling this chronic disease. The current patient pathway to surgical intervention can take as long as eight years, according to Dr. Ahmad.
She said metabolic surgery is associated with higher diabetes remission rates, lowered mortality risk, fewer complications, higher weight loss and improved quality of life in the short and long term.

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