A senior health ministry official was recently overjoyed to know that children in the UAE were overweight.
"Oh my God," he said, apparently very happy. "We thought everyone would turn out to be obese," he said, clapping his hands.
He was commenting on a school health survey carried out in government and private schools across the emirates. The survey, he said, showed that only a small percentage of children are obese, and that a significant number are overweight.
"We are okay with overweight," he said. "That, we can manage." But he did not spell out how the weight of the fat children can be brought down because most of the schoolchildren chug down at least two colas a day and chomp on fast food three times a week (according to the survey).
I thought the health ministry official must have suffered a nervous breakdown when he said he was happy, because the ministry is apparently under tremendous pressure to stop the fat onslaught.
It is spending tonnes of money trying to keep people healthy, while everyone is surreptitiously ordering take-away sitting at home. [The place where I live is buzzing with motorcycles and I see serious men wearing helmets and gloves, taking sandwiches for a ride in their hygienic, hot, metal boxes].
Planners must also be having nightmares thinking of a future generation rolling down the halls of academe or spilling out of their office cabins.
Sometimes when I stop at a corner grocery to pick up gum, I find droves of children buying candy, the ones which melt in their wrappers as soon as you hold it in your hand. I hear the maid scream, "No, Ahmad, buy just one bag [of crisps]."
The obesity disease is not confined to Emirati children, but expatriate children as well. Once when I picked up my son from school, I found tiny tots huffing and wheezing to get into their momma's cars. "How was your day, darling," asks the doting mother as she heaves and pushes the boy into his seat.
"What do you expect?" said one doctor, while texting on her mobile phone. "These children lead sedentary lives with their gadgets," she said. [I asked my son what physical exercises they do at school, and he said mostly everyone shouts a lot].
Weight reducing clinics
The fat epidemic is good for at least two types of business — gyms and weight reducing clinics. As I walk in the neighbouring Discovery Gardens I am happy to see slim and well-toned women (and men) through the glass front windows of the gyms, running on treadmills or lifting weights.
Then I wonder, shouldn't these people be at home lolling on their couches while the overweight come here and work off their fat? I have yet to see an overweight person in any of these gyms. (Anyway, I believe the drop-out rate from gyms is as bad as the quit rate of smokers trying to give up their addiction).
Incidentally, treadmills are best-selling health equipment at sports shops, but the least used. Most of the time they are used for hanging out the clothes to dry, I am told. You see pictures of the treadmills on notice boards at shopping malls. "Distress sale", say the words on the top of the picture. I too would be distressed if the stupid machine just sat in my bedroom, taking up space, and the maid used the handles to dry my socks.
A top scientist told a packed audience at the recent human genome meeting that he had a joke solution to the obesity epidemic. "Jail those who are obese and use their energy for power generation," he said. If you can get the Americans and Australians to walk around we can harness their energy, he said.
By Mahmoud Saberi