Experts call for a 'bad choices' tax on tobacco to improve MENA health
Dr. Siddiqi suggested a ban on smoking shisha in public sector buildings. (Al Bawaba/File)
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Governments can start making people aware of what they are eating and think about taxing 'bad choices' to create a healthy society, a summit heard on Tuesday.
In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), non-communicable diseases account for 75 per cent of its mortality rate.
Tobacco taxation and compulsory nutritional food labelling are two of the main interventions needed to decrease the number of non-communicable diseases in this region.
The UAE and surrounding countries need to do a lot more in the area of applied research to meet this precarious situation, according to Dr Sameen Siddiqi, Director for Department of Health System Development at the WHO, Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (WHO EMRO), .
Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of Healthcare in the Middle East and North Africa Summit on Tuesday, Dr Siddiqi said: "Take obesity for example. This is a huge problem here and figures are growing. We need to figure out how to stop this happening and the first step is to enforce compulsory nutritional labelling on foods."
He said the food culture here is adding to the increase of waistlines. Eating late at night and eating fast food is hugely popular in this region, but with this unhealthy lifestyle comes an increase in non-communicable diseases.
Third biggest country
Another huge concern in this region is diabetes.
In the UAE, one in five people are living with diabetes. Globally, this number sits at 387 million.
Speaking at Tuesday's event, Chief Executive Officer, International Diabetes Federation, Dr Petra Wilson said if diabetes were a country, it would be the third biggest in the world.
She said investing in good preventative care is the way forward, and taxing bad choices could catapult this change for the better health.
In a region where shisha smoking is the norm, Dr Siddiqi said in order to see a change in smoking habits, restrictions on smoking should start in one place only, public sector buildings.
"I think banning shisha in these buildings is the best place to start. It will set a good example to others and slowly but surely, additional bans can be implemented in public spaces too."
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