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OBESITY has reached alarming proportions in the Middle East as over 45 per cent of women in the 15-49 age group are overweight or obese, said a leading international obesity expert. Professor Philip James, chairman of the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) and director of the Public Health Policy Group in the UK also warned that while there has been increased emphasis on the care of hypertension and heart disease, obesity is still not being treated effectively.

James made these remarks while addressing over 200 doctors and pharmacists in the UAE during a conference in Dubai. The theme of the conference organised by Abbot Laboratories and Gulf Drug Establishment was "Obesity - developing new standards for medical intervention."

James said that obesity was a far greater threat in the Middle East region, compared to developed countries like the USA or Japan. An earlier study held in the UAE known as the Emirates National Diabetes Study (Endcad) had shown that 74 per cent of the random group studied was either overweight or obese. Almost 75.2 per cent women in Lebanon were overweight or obese, compared to 61.9 per cent and 67.9 per cent in the US and 26.5 per cent and 27 per cent in Japan.

"Obesity is one of the most important medical and health problems of our time and is a very under-treated disease," James said. This is causing an epidemic growth in related health conditions. Obesity is a chronic disease, demanding long-term management strategies working to pre-set goals.

James, who headed a landmark trial in obesity called the STORM trial, using the drug Reductil (Sibutramine), said that intervention was necessary not only to lose weight but also to maintain weight loss over a long time. Reductil proved to be successful in both as it helped patients lose five to 10 per cent of their initial body weight, and is up to five times more effective than diet and exercise alone. "Losing 10 per cent weight means you reduce 20 per cent chance of mortality due to diseases, and a 30 per cent reduction in diabetes-associated mortality. The relation between diabetes and obesity is so strong that in the US, the resultant health condition due to these diseases is nowadays known as diabesity," James said.

Philip said that Reductil has also been effective in reducing blood pressure. Patients trying to lose excess weight should go for a combination of Reductil, together with a healthy eating plan and lifestyle, he suggested.

Talking about the Gulf region, Philip said that lifestyle changes in the last 50 years had wreaked havoc on people's health. "Obesity can normally be attributed to a combination of genes and environment. However it is more environmental than genetic in this region. People in the past lived hard lives and were not overweight, but rapid changes in the standard of living have meant the adoption of a much less healthy lifestyle in terms of eating habits and exercise," he explained.

Speaking at the symposium, Dr Ali Bakir, head of the endocrinology department at Mafraq Hospital and principal investigator of Endcad said that it was very important to adopt healthy eating habits at a very young age to reduce the risks of diabetes and obesity.

James indicated that the World Health Organisation (WHO) might be announing in October a major initiative against obesity in view of the its serious consequences. James has played a leading role in raising international awareness of obesity. As chairman of IOTF, he gathered together a large group of leading international experts to produce a report, now adopted by WHO, which documents the growing levels of obesity and proposes ways in which countries can tackle this global problem.

Courtesy: Gulf Today

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