The growing threat of ‘diabesity’
A key component of the MENA region’s growing prosperity at the beginning of the last decade was improving Health. Today, MENA performs relatively well – the majority of nations in the region sit above the world average. But in the last six years this upward trend has reversed, and now MENA’s gains are shrinking. So how healthy is MENA?
MENA has a distinct fingerprint across measures of Health. On the one hand people live relatively long lives and have good healthcare infrastructure. Qatar is third in the world for satisfaction with healthcare; and the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are all in the top 20. But counter to this is the reality that people are generally dissatisfied with life, scoring low in measures of joy and sadness, and also have the worst diabetes and obesity problems in the world. Perceptions don’t seem to match reality – in the Gulf, where obesity is most prevalent, people generally do not perceive themselves as having health issues.
Obesity is not only highly prevalent in MENA compared to the rest of the world; data from the World Health Organisation show that it is actually getting worse. And while higher food consumption may be a lifestyle choice to which citizens feel entitled in light of increasing wealth across the region, it has potentially devastating long-term consequences. A 2015 report by Morgan Stanley demonstrated a clear link between the quality of a nation’s diet and its economic growth; and they identify ‘diabesity’ as having serious negative effects on the strength of the workforce, public expenditure and GDP growth. In their projections, economic costs paid by nations suffering from ‘diabesity’ may exceed 30 percent over the next 20 years.
At present, it may seem that the region can financially afford to sustain a more consumptive lifestyle without a mobilised labour force. But as the need for productivity increases in future, the costs that have been incurred in health terms through poor diet and lifestyle choices may begin to bite.