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Fat to fit: Miraculous solutions to high obesity levels in the GCC

Obesity is also the leading health problem in the UAE and Saudi. There are reasons for this, but also new technological solutions and drugs to deal with the problem

The Elipse Gastric Balloon is the world's first weight loss device that requires no surgery, endoscopy, or anesthesia The most effective treatment so far is bariatric surgery, which involves making changes to your digestive system Obesity-related diseases may cost the GCC $68 billion a year by 2022

Obesity is a global problem that comes with interesting facts. 

Obese people diagnosed with COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized, 74% more likely to need an intensive care unit, and 48% more likely to die, according to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US.

Globally, more than 3 billion people can’t afford healthy and nutritious diets, according to the UN.

At least 57 institutional investors with a combined $9.7 trillion in assets under management have signed up to the Access to Nutrition Initiative with a push to making healthy products more accessible.

More students have been suffering from obesity, and other lifestyle-related illnesses, following the shift to e-learning last year.

Obesity is also the leading health problem in the UAE. In 2019, Zayed Military Hospital conducted a survey and found that 70% of the Emirati male population were obese.

In Saudi, the situation is even worse.

What new solutions are on offer to help rid society of obesity and its dangerous side effects, including, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, to name but a few?

Read: Meals on wheels further Saudi obesity, health issues, but other culprits weigh in

Read: How fit are we? Heart-stopping truths about health and lifestyle in the region

New revolutionary technology in the UAE

Invasive weight-loss surgeries pose to obese people due to the adverse complications which may arise so surgical solutions are not an option for many. 

The Elipse Gastric Balloon, by Allurion, is the world’s first and only weight loss device that requires no surgery, endoscopy, or anesthesia. 

Available across clinics in the UAE, the Elipse Program supports long-term weight loss through a revolutionary gastric balloon that creates a feeling of fullness by taking up space in the stomach.

 The Allurion Program is changing the approach to weight loss, with over 40,000 patients worldwide, and the Elipse Balloon is a registered medical device with the UAE Ministry of Health. 

This world-first technology is placed during a brief 20-minute visit and passes naturally after approximately 16 weeks, allowing patients to lose an average of 10 to 15% of their body weight within that time frame. 

Patients also benefit from six months of dietary support from a nutritionist to ensure lasting lifestyle changes.

One clinical study with 509 patients showed that 95% of average weight loss with Elipse can be sustained at a 12- month follow-up. 

Furthermore, in a study of 42 patients, the average weight loss with two sequential Elipse Balloons was 22.8% of total body weight loss. The maximum weight loss achieved was 40.9% body weight loss in 12 months. 

For more information on the drug and which clinics offer it, click here

More solutions

Another drug has been shown to be effective against obesity. 

The drug, semaglutide, made by Novo Nordisk, already is marketed as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes.  

Nearly 2,000 participants, at 129 centers in 16 countries, injected themselves weekly with semaglutide or a placebo for 68 weeks. Those who got the drug lost close to 15% of their body weight, on average, compared with 2.4% among those receiving the placebo.

More than a third of the participants receiving the drug lost more than 20% of their weight.  

Semaglutide is expensive. The lower dose used to treat diabetes carries an average retail price of nearly $1,000 a month and patients take it for a lifetime to prevent the weight loss from coming back.

Five other available anti-obesity drugs have side effects that limit their use. The most effective, phentermine, brings about a 7.5% weight loss, on average, and can be taken only for a short time. After it is stopped, that amount of weight is regained.

The most effective treatment so far is bariatric surgery, which involves making changes to your digestive system, helps people lose 25% to 30% of body weight, on average. But the surgery is very invasive. 

Gulf obesity

Combined overweight and obesity rates in GCC countries are estimated to be as high as 86% among women and 77% among men. 

Obesity-related diseases may cost the GCC $68 billion a year by 2022 in lost output and treatment costs, according to Booz & Co. 

If unhealthy eating and obesity aren’t tackled, related health costs will exceed $1.3 trillion a year in the next decade, according to UN estimates.

Government officials alarmed by the trend have taken action, mainly with targeted taxes and new food-labeling regulations. 

Saudi Arabia has one of the fastest-growing obesity rates in the world.  The report also claims that 70-75% of Saudi adults are overweight, and around a third are obese. 

Diabetes rates and coronary heart diseases there continue to climb due to high-fat diets and decreased exercise.

Three-quarters of Saudi women are overweight, and 44% are obese in part due to cultural restrictions that limit exercising in public. 

Obesity also affects the country’s children: a quarter of Saudi boys are overweight, as well as over a third of girls. 

Unsurprisingly, obesity is more common in urban areas than rural areas partly due to the high availability of cars and public transport in cities.  

Westernization also meant the Saudis have adopted typical Western eating habits and have more access to fast food and ready meals than ever before, with outlets such as KFC and McDonald’s spreading across cities like Riyadh, Dammam, and Jeddah.