Friday, September 27, 2013

Fat in Doha

Sports Day fruit bar

In Doha, beards and neck scarves camouflage double chins.  Abayas and thobes hide protruding bellies, wobbly arms and wide back ends.  A niqabat wears tight clothes under her robe to remind herself not to overeat.

mafee mushkilla - no problem!  Weight reduction surgeries are free for Qataris at government funded Hamad Medical Center.  And card toting expats (like Bob and me) pay only 5,000 Qatari Riyal (approximately $1,400 USD).
Hamad performs 70-100 weight reduction surgeries each month, 85 percent of those on Qatari women.  There are 2000 people on waiting lists lasting 6 months to 1 year.  The youngest patient at HMC was a 13-year old boy who lost nearly 60kg (132 pounds):  "he had become obese only because his parents gave him too much to eat." (The Peninsula.)
Fat in Doha by the numbers:
  • 30 percent of the Qatari population is overweight
  • 28 percent of Qatari children are overweight
  • 50 percent of Qatari boys between 12-17 years old have BMI* between 22 and 36
  • 20.2 percent of the overall adult population suffers from diabetes
  • 4th highest rate of diabetes in the world
  • 2nd highest rate of diabetes in the GCC

The Peninsula
Individuals who don't want to wait for surgery travel to other countries or go to private local hospitals where the procedure can cost as much as 50,000 Qatari Riyal (approximately $13,000 USD).  Al Ahli Hospital performs 80 to 100 weight loss surgeries per month, most on women ages 15-40 years old who are preparing for marriage or having difficulty becoming pregnant.
"In our society men would like to marry slim women.  For some women obesity is a hindrance to getting pregnant."
-Dr Abdul Azim A W Hussain, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Medical Director and Director of General Surgery Department at Al Ahli Hospital
Fat in Doha is not just a Qatari issue.  And western expats in tight jeans and snug tops with popping buttons do not necessarily intend disrespect.  Sometimes it's just a Middle Eastern flu known as, I-moved-to-Doha-and-now-I'm-fat.
It's not food's fault
Doha's "VLCC" teaches more than 250 people a day (80 percent are Qatari women) how to manage weight issues through nutrition, diet and exercise.  Grocery stores sell crisp apples from France, crunchy cucumbers from Saudi Arabia, Hillshire Farms' deli thin oven roasted turkey breast and the very same frozen vegetables we pick up stateside.  Restaurants serve halal grilled chicken salad and low fat vegetarian pizza.
And the whole "you gotta drink the sugary tea and eat the fried-to-juicy sweets or offend your Middle Eastern host" thing?  Doesn't apply when expat/local interactions are rare, nonexistent or with modern Arabs (who only eat like that at home, behind those 10 foot high walls where, btw, YOU are not invited).
Marhaban (welcome)?

Don't blame exercise
The Walk the Mall guy
 drinks water
It's true that under construction Doha is not a walking city.  There is no (safe) jogging route that extends from one end of town to the other.  Plus, traffic is so dense that our 6-mile job site commute can take more than an hour to drive - one way.  Factor in a few torturous round trips to the grocery store, work, class, social events - and that's a lot of muscle-atrophying, brain melting, energy-sapping, butt-widening time in traffic.

No worries - chances are there's a work out facility close by.
Gyms in malls, hotels and every tower at The Pearl.  Sporting clubs.  Sport Day.  Weight loss centers.  Joggers pound the boardwalk under our balcony, clog the Corniche, dot Aspire Park.  All over town, billboards promote fitness.  Step into Health Magazine offers weight management support and fitness tips.  The Walk the Mall program features a "perfect workout, alongside controlled temperatures; it provides a clean and safe environment to exercise."

Join up and you'll get a free pedometer too!
The AWOL workout in between
"But, Cindi, how do you manage?"
-a non-Western friend when she learned that I don't have a maid
What's missing: mow yard.  Weed, hoe, till, plant garden.  Collect trash, sort closet, sweep garage, spray foundation.  Change oil, wash car, tickle baby, climb jungle gym.  Chase neighborhood kid, walk around the block.
You know, everyday life stuff; chores and personal responsibility kinds of things.  Car, yard and household maintenance tasks.  Unclog drain, dust, vacuum, move furniture.  Pick up Carrefour display your kid knocked down, bus table at the food court.  Push grocery cart, load van, change baby's diaper while cleaning house, fixing dinner, doing laundry and taking a shower.
You see, in Doha, there's someone to do that.
A "tea boy" to prepare, deliver, collect and clean up coffee/tea/water.
A maid (nanny) to cook, clean, make the bed, prepare kids' lunches at home and carry bags, purse, planner, cell phone while remaining three steps behind you at the mall.
A nanny (maid) to push strollers, herd toddlers, oversee activity in Chili's upstairs play area (while Mom and Dad eat downstairs).
A driver to wait - sometimes for hours - by a sparkly, just washed sedan, van or Suburban in case you feel the urge to go…wherever.
A guy - leaning on that railing over there, waiting, waiting, waiting- to do whatever you ask.
In Qatar, these jobs are filled by individuals from Asian countries who are rarely, if ever, fat.
sweeping up during Sports Day

 Consider, for example, the physical requirements for taking out the trash:  lift 5-20 pounds.  As weight is carried up and down stairs, in and out of rooms, arm and leg muscles contract and relax, feet move from heel to toe and back again.  Balance and coordination skills are utilized to lift bag without spilling (at which point workout ensues for sweeping, vacuuming, mopping muscles).  Employ arm, calf, thigh, shoulder, core and back to relocate waste to curb.
Other benefits to a good health prescription that includes what some might consider everyday chores include:  humility, discipline, organization, pride in one's work and appreciation for the efforts of others.
Because whether in health, marriage, school, business or taking out the trash, the real reward is in the finishing.  And there are some things that money just can't buy.
"I think it's very important that the authorities consider this as a disease and provide insurance cover."
-Dr. Hussain
*BMI: Body Mass Index measures a person's body shape using an individual's mass and height:
BMI less than 18.5: Underweight
                  18.5-25: Normal Range
                     25-30: Overweight
                  over 31: Obese
Saleem, Fazeena. "Slimming through Surgery." The Peninsula, Doha, Qatar 14 Sep. 2013: Home 1-2
The Sweet Epidemic (website)
International Diabetes Federation


Peggy said...

I'm out of breath just reading this! It sounds like the leaders are really trying to solve the problems...are there incentives for children to participate competitively in sports? When everyone has so MUCH, it probably is difficult to have anything that would reward them for achievement.

And, BTW: what is a "thobe" and what does VLCC stand for?

Lucinda H. Kennaley said...

Thanks for writing!! A thobe/dishdasha is the (usually) white robe-like garment traditional Qatari men wear. Sort of like a dressy (Egyptian) gallabea in breathable linen-like fabric, with collar and deep pockets on each side.

I couldn't find an explanation for VLCC's acronym, however as the founder's name is Mrs. Vandana Luthra I'm assuming she represents the "VL" and the "CC" is a sort of company designation.

Charles W. Hedrick said...

Thanks for a fascinating look at modern Qatari traditions! Tell your readers what your daily meals usually consist of.May we assume that you have not been affected by the creeping Qatari expansion?
Dad fromCanada

Lucinda H. Kennaley said...

Bob likes his morning Herbalife shake and eats a healthy afternoon meal out with his coworkers. In the evening we share a light meal (a slice of frozen pizza/veggies and cheese for example). I often do crackers and cheese for lunch, nuts, apple and/or granola bar in between but that's about it (we don't eat sweets at all here)...he plays golf, we walk together 2-4x/week and I run and swim 3-5x/week. The rest of the time we're sitting in traffic. :)

So, YES, we're both enjoying the joys of Qatari expansion. :) Thanks for asking!

Kim said...

Hi! Where do you buy herbalife products in qatar? Am i allowed to send thru courier to my husband who is working in doha? Thanks.

Lucinda H. Kennaley said...

Hi Kim,
As far as I know Herbalife isn't (yet) approved for sale within Qatar (which just means you can't buy it here). In the beginning of our journey, our Herbalife was pulled out for review downtown. They did let us keep it - and since then we haven't had any problems bringing it into the country in our suitcases or sending it via our company's courier. I'd recommend you only send sealed containers, tho! Hope that helps!

Kim said...

thank you cindi