How active lifestyles, sports and fitness programs are enabling Arab women to beat obesity, manage weight

Special How active lifestyles, sports and fitness programs are enabling Arab women to beat obesity, manage weight
Saudi women are stepping up the pace when it comes to personal health, with community-based sports participation increasing rapidly in recent years as a fitness culture takes hold. (AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2022

How active lifestyles, sports and fitness programs are enabling Arab women to beat obesity, manage weight

How active lifestyles, sports and fitness programs are enabling Arab women to beat obesity, manage weight
  • Article in The Economist attributes obesity among Arab women to social conservatism restricting outdoor exercise
  • Saudi efforts show why such perceptions are outdated as women take charge of their health and lifestyles

JEDDAH: Obesity rates worldwide have been steadily rising over the past half-century, reaching a point at which experts say many nations are way off schedule to meet the World Health Organization’s 2025 global nutrition targets.

Mindful of the pressures that high obesity rates place on local healthcare systems, to the detriment of quality of life, countries such as Saudi Arabia are working hard to promote fitness and challenge people to change their sedentary lifestyles.

According to a recent study by Ohio State University College of Medicine, obesity and the associated health implications cost the Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone, equivalent to about 4.3 percent of the Kingdom’s total annual health expenditure.




Keeping weight under control is nevertheless easier said than done in the age of globalization. (AFP)

Excess weight and obesity — defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that can impair health — is not only a concern in the Arab world. More than a billion people worldwide are classified as obese, which means that they have a body mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) of 30 or higher, and the number is rising.

According to the WHO, obesity is more prevalent among women than men, with factors such as sociocultural issues, economics, genetics and biology all contributing factors. Worldwide, obesity affects 15 percent of women and 11 percent of men. In the Middle East and North Africa, this gender gap is even wider, with 26 percent of women classified as obese compared with 16 percent of men.

A recent article published by The Economist attributes the problem in the region to two key factors: Socioeconomics, on the grounds that the cheapest local foods are usually the most unhealthy, such as bread and rice; and culture, on the grounds that pervasive social conservatism in the Arab region can prevent women from participating in outdoor exercise or shedding calories passively in the workplace.

The reality is, of course, more complex than that. The perception of Arab women as mere sedentary housewives appears grossly outdated as women in the region increasingly enter the labor force, take charge of their diets, and seize new opportunities in the worlds of sports and fitness.




Obesity and the associated health implications cost the Saudi healthcare system $3.8 billion in 2019 alone. (AFP)

Keeping body weight under control, in any case, is easier said than done in the age of globalization. Arab countries, too, have experienced significant lifestyle changes and rapid urbanization that have introduced many additional high-fat foods to the market alongside the pre-existing unhealthy eating habits, including the traditionally carbohydrate-rich Arab diet.

Populations of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have found themselves at the sharp end of these developments. Notably, obesity levels have soared in recent decades owing to a mix of unhealthy eating, inactivity and keeping “fat in fashion” — a stereotype associated with Gulf nationals on account of their perceived affluence.

Globally, the perception of obesity varies widely. In many high-income and, increasingly, middle-income countries, weight gain carries a social stigma that fuels a perception of individual weakness that undermines the support for comprehensive prevention, treatment and management measures.

Different ideals associated with weight and body shape can found in various cultures. Specific cultural pressures to be tall and thin are postulated to cause people to misreport their height and body weight in an attempt to appear what is deemed more socially popular and desirable.

A similar situation exists in some places in terms of attitudes to excess weight. Many African and Polynesian, and some Arab, cultures associate overweight women with affluence, health, strength and fertility. In the Gulf region at least, however, being fat is certainly no longer in fashion.

Sulafa Kurdi, a photographer and cafe owner, has been overweight almost all of her life. In August 2020, she took the first steps on a nearly two-year journey to get fit and healthy by signing up with a gym. She chose Sweat Army in Jeddah and began her transformation.


“I was waiting for the right time to make the move and turn my life around,” she told Arab News. “Breaking down that wall was tough but, with the support I received from my coach, the journey was what I needed. I wanted to lose weight the healthy way, the right way and the difficult way.

“Within three months of signing up, I found the discipline to maintain a healthy lifestyle that I still stick to as best as I can. Yes, we all fall off the wagon and feel sluggish at times. With the right support, I’ve managed to get back again and move, breaking my own records.”

FASTFACTS

• Obesity is closely linked to chronic health problems, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

• Excess weight and the associated health implications cost the Saudi health system $3.8bn in 2019.

Indeed, contrary to the assertions in The Economist’s article, anecdotal evidence suggests more and more women in the Arab world are taking control of their physical lives and setting off on a journey to improved their fitness. This has in turn motivated many to pursue their dreams of becoming professional athletes.

Studies have found that engagement in sports and physical activity has been lower among women than men. Now various government-led and private programs are providing women and girls with access to sports facilities, encouraging them to become athletes and even role models for younger generations.

This has challenged outdated stereotypes about women in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab region and the incorrect notions about social conservatism preventing them from going outdoors both to exercise and to take part in organized sports.

Dubbed “Cleopatra Squash,” Egyptian Nuran Johar has won padel tournaments such as the England Open Junior Championship five times. Meanwhile, Ulfah Alkaabi, one of the UAE’s top padel players, has been making her mark on the court.

Halfway around the world, Saudi Arabia’s female national football team won a silver medal at the Special Olympics Unified Cup in Detroit, Michigan this month.

Although Saudi sprinter and first-time Olympian Yasmeen Al-Dabbagh fell short in her first race in Tokyo 2020, she has set her sights on bringing home a medal from the next Games in Paris in 2024.

By all accounts, women’s participation in sports and fitness boils down to a supportive community. In the Kingdom, the Sports For All Federation has been building community-driven programs to improve overall health through community sports programs, a powerful tool to create a healthy society in line with the Vision 2030 Quality of Life objectives.
 




The Saudi female athletes leading the way. 

SFA says its programs and initiatives are created based on a community’s specific needs and what motivates them, and can be incorporated easily into their daily routines such as walking, running, cycling and other activities. It says the number of female participants in community sports has increased dramatically.

“Since 2018, we’ve seen the numbers reflected across our programs,” an SFA spokesperson told Arab News. “SFA wants to provide women with the right programs and female-driven initiatives to encourage them to go further.

“We provided a special course for ladies in our Spartan race, there was an area for women at SandClash to compete, and the same goes for our Neighborhood Clubs across the Kingdom for women who prefer to have their own spaces.




Women’s participation in sports and fitness boils down to a supportive community. (AFP)

“SFA has also hosted the Global Goals World Cup, a five-a-side women’s football tournament, and is the first country to add basketball to the games. One of the main objectives of SFA is to enable them, provide them with access to facilities, motivate them and feel that they are part of the community.”

Underscoring the importance of community-based physical activity programs, Haya Sawan, a fitness trainer and the owner of SheFit Gym in Jeddah, told Arab News that having such programs is helping to build a strong fitness culture among women.

“There’s been a huge jump in the past five years and you can see more people engaged in some sort of physical activity than ever before. It’s not just a matter of gyms opening, it’s more about changing the mindset and changing the lifestyle,” said Sawan.

“The region’s climate and unique environment restrict us from walking for miles, so we need to put in extra effort just to stay active all day. We utilize the space that we have and create programs fitting for the space, and using vast spaces such as malls and outdoor pathways designated for walking or jogging is a great way to engage the public.




The perception of Arab women as mere sedentary housewives appears grossly outdated. (AFP)

“Initiatives such as the ones launched by SFA where they cooperated with malls makes it so much easier for people to be active. It’s accessible and you can count your steps. It’s a small gesture that makes a difference in the long run.”

That said, personal motivation remains an integral part of any fitness journey, and changing perceptions among Arab women — and wider society — about their role, status and body autonomy no doubt has a part to play.

“I am a strong believer that your thoughts can really control your life,” said Sawan. “A positive mindset will always believe that there’s room for improvement, and look at challenges as a source of motivation to overcome, rather than challenges that would stop you from moving forward. Everything changes.”


Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel
Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

BEIRUT: Lebanon has submitted to the US a list of changes it would like to see in a proposal on how to delineate a contested maritime border with Israel, a top Lebanese official said on Tuesday.
US envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hochstein sent a draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab said he had earlier that day submitted to the US ambassador in Lebanon the amendments Beirut would like to see, without providing details.


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He said he does not think the proposed changes would derail the deal and that, while the response did not signify approval of the draft, talks were so advanced that “we are done negotiating.”
Speaking to local broadcaster LBCI, he said the draft deal had been produced by thinking “outside of the box.”
“We started to talk about it as a business deal,” Bou Saab said.
The 10-page draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.

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While that company has been officially named, Lebanese officials have publicly suggested a role for TotalEnergies SE . A top Israeli official was meeting company representatives in Paris on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Bou Saab on Tuesday said that, according to the draft deal, Lebanon had secured all of the maritime blocs it considered its own.
He added that Lebanon will not pay one cent from its share of Qana to Israel.

 

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Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman
Updated 04 October 2022

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman
  • King Abdullah expressed appreciation for Oman’s efforts to bolster security and stability in the region
  • Two leaders agreed to advance joint economic cooperation in trade, investment, and industry

RIYADH: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq on Tuesday expressed keenness to bolster bilateral relations in all fields during a meeting in Muscat.

During talks held at Al-Alam Palace in Muscat, the two leaders agreed to advance joint economic cooperation in trade, investment, and industry, Jordan News Agency reported.

King Abdullah and Sultan Haitham stressed the need to step up the trade exchange between their countries and called for the Oman-Jordan Joint Committee to reconvene after the king’s visit.

The importance of bolstering cooperation between the private sectors in the two countries and maintaining coordination and consultation on various issues of mutual concern including food security and energy was also discussed.

King Abdullah expressed appreciation for Oman’s continuous efforts to bolster security and stability in the region.

The monarch also highlighted the importance of supporting the Palestinians to seek their just and legitimate rights, and the need to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.

The meeting was attended by Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II.


Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships
Updated 04 October 2022

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships
  • Houthis ordered operators to stop shipping oil and minerals from government-controlled regions
  • Militia group refused to renew UN truce and resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz, and Dhale

AL-MUKALLA: The internationally recognized government of Yemen has slammed Houthi threats to attack oil ships and called for international action to stop the group from damaging civilian infrastructure and power sources.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak described the threats as “criminal and terrorist activity,” adding that the Iran-backed Houthis had no respect for international agreements prohibiting attacks on civilian facilities.

“Such a threat is unmistakable evidence of these groups’ terrorist nature, which is nothing new to Yemenis. It is crucial that the world understands how this terrorist organization operates and how it disregards fundamental international laws and conventions,” he told Arab News on Tuesday.

The minister’s comments came as the Aden-based Ministry of Transportation urged foreign shipping companies to continue their operations despite Houthi demands that they stop movements of the country’s oil.

In a letter sent on Monday to agents of shipping firms operating in Yemen, the ministry’s Maritime Affairs Authority said they should carry on exporting the nation’s oil, gas, and minerals from government-controlled ports and not comply with Houthi demands or threats.

“Memoranda or circulars will not be considered unless they are issued by Aden’s Presidency of the General Authority for Maritime Affairs,” the government’s maritime body said in the letter seen by Arab News.

The Yemen government’s request came a day after the Houthis officially ordered ship operators to stop transporting oil and minerals from government-controlled regions, threatening to target their vessels if the demand was ignored.

On Sunday, hours before a UN-brokered truce expired, the Houthis’ Minister of Transport Abdul-Wahab Yahya Al-Durra sent a letter requesting firms to cease shipping the country’s oil and other natural resources by 6 p.m., accusing them of looting Yemen’s resources.

“Any navigation activity that violates standard procedures will be treated as an illegal act that jeopardizes national interests, and we hold you fully responsible for violating it,” the Houthi minister said in his letter, also seen by Arab News.

The Yemeni militia group has refused to renew the UN truce and has resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz, and Dhale.

The Houthis threatened to target oil ships docking in government-controlled areas in a bid to deprive the government of financial resources unless it paid all public employees in areas under the group’s control, reopened Sanaa airport, and lifted alleged restrictions on fuel ship movements through Hodeidah port.

The Houthis’ refusal to open roads in Taiz has also hampered efforts to keep the truce in place.

The Yemeni government has said that the Houthis should pay public employees in their areas with the millions of dollars earned from fuel ships passing through Hodeidah port during the truce.

Yemen’s Oil Minister Saeed Al-Shumasi recently told Al-Ghad Mushreq TV that the country exported 2 million barrels of oil every two months from oil fields in the southeastern province of Hadramout, plus 600,000 barrels from the southern province of Shabwa.

The Dhaba oil terminal in Hadramout province handles most of the country’s oil exports to international markets.


UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought
Updated 04 October 2022

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought
  • Relief efforts continue to pour in to meet the needs of more than 2.5 million
  • The aid is a collaborative effort between UAE relief agencies and the Somali Disaster Management Authority

ABU DHABI: A ship carrying nearly 1,000 tons of aid to Somali people hit by drought is the latest contribution of the UAE to the relief effort.
The ship, which docked in Mogadishu last month, will distribute its cargo to help meet the needs of more than 2.5 million people, reported Emirates News Agency (WAM).
The aid effort is part of a coordinated project with the Emirates Red Crescent Authority, the Zayed Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation and the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Foundation for Humanitarian Works.
The distribution has been expanded in the past week to camps in the most badly hit areas, including Mogadishu and in the Mahas and Mataban areas of Hiran governorate in the Hirshabelle region.
The aid is a collaborative effort between UAE relief agencies and the Somali Disaster Management Authority.
The drought facing Somalia is the worst in decades. The UN World Meteorological Organization has predicted the country will face a fifth successive failed rainy season.
More than 7 million Somalis face humanitarian issues and are in need of food, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
 


Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money
Updated 04 October 2022

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money
  • Retired diplomat entered the IBL branch in Hazmieh and refused to leave until he was given his savings
  • A retired security officer entered BLC Bank in Bekaa and demanded that $4,300 be transferred to his son in Ukraine

BEIRUT: A former police officer brandishing a weapon and a retired ambassador were among savers who stormed banks in Lebanon after they partially reopened following a week’s closure after earlier raids.
Georges Habib Siam, 76, the honorary consul general of Ireland and former protocol director at Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry, entered the IBL branch in Hazmieh, Mount Lebanon, and refused to leave until he was given his savings.
Ali Deeb Al-Sahli, a retired member of the Internal Security Forces, entered the Chtaura branch of the BLC Bank in the Bekaa, and demanded that $4,300 be transferred to his son in Ukraine, who was evicted from his house and expelled from university due to a lack of money.
A video shared on social media showed other savers cheering Al-Sahli, before bank employees are seen taking his weapon, before detaining and then handing him over to security forces. Another video showed Al-Sahli saying he would sell his kidney for money.
Ali Hassan Hodroj, another saver, demanded that staff in the Byblos Bank branch in Tire, southern Lebanon, hand over his savings of around $44,000. He was able to recover some money, which he handed over to another protester outside before surrendering himself to police.
Meanwhile, dozens of employees of the Kadisha Electricity Co. stormed the FNB’s Tripoli branch, demanding their full salaries and allowances after the bank deducted 3 percent.
The latest attempts by Lebanese to get their money came two weeks after hold-ups at seven branches, which led to banks closing for a week in protest.
The Lebanese financial system has been in turmoil since 2020, with the Lebanese pound losing most of its value. The country’s banks have restricted depositor withdrawals from their dollar accounts and any money taken out in local currency has been subject to exchange rates that have rendered it almost worthless. Meanwhile, authorities have yet to enact a recovery plan.
Hassan Moghnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, told Arab News: “The situation is going to get worse as long as there is no radical solution to the issue of withholding deposits.
“Ignoring this will lead to more chaos, despite all the measures taken, since all people have deposits in banks.”
Assad Khoury, the head of the Syndicate of Bank Employees in Lebanon, said: “Things will not be resolved by storming banks. A comprehensive solution is required. The responsibility lies primarily with the political authority, which is still trying to deny its responsibilities.”
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said that it had no control over financial or monetary policies, and its members were not the decision-makers.
In a statement, it said: “The state withdrew $62.6 billion from the central bank. These sums were spent on maintaining subsidies, stabilizing the exchange rate, high interests, electricity, the state’s import needs, and others.
“When the crisis began, the central bank had reserves of about $33 billion. Today, reserves have fallen to about $10 billion.
“When banks tried to speak up in an effort to change the situation, the head of the ABL was prosecuted.
“If the situation continues, the International Monetary Fund will stop negotiating with Lebanon, the central bank’s reserves will be depleted, and the state will be unable to secure any purchases from abroad.
“Lebanon would thus be unable to secure the minimum necessities of living, such as electricity, water, medicine, telecommunications, etc., and hope of recovering deposits would fade, and the local currency would depreciate even further,” the association statement added.