Weighed down by bullying

Ali bin Ahmed al Lawati is relaxed now. He can climb any number of steps, walk any distance, swim for hours and do his office duty at ease. “I was bullied by friends, teased by family members. There were times when I couldn’t sleep due to my obese body,” says Ali. Being called ‘fat’ by others is a terrifying experience, he says. Ali weighed 175 kg before he started systematic dieting and intensive exercises 19 months ago. “My efforts bore fruit. I could silence my critics with a weight loss of 100 kg during this period,” Ali told the Observer. Large people are, indeed, frequently the target of verbal abuse and, sometimes, physical attack. Sometimes they draw stares; other times, they are just ignored.

Either way, they are looked down upon. “Weight bullying or teasing happens to a lot of people in many places — at school, home and even among friends,” says Dr Ameera Raiden, Head of Mental Health, Department of Non-Communicable Diseases. According to her, when people are bullied and teased about their weight, they feel down and ashamed. “This can lead to feelings of depression, low self-esteem and poor body image. It can make people want to avoid being around others, or stop doing their usual activities,” Dr Ameera adds. She was talking to Observer on the sidelines of the grand finale of the Muscat Weight Loss Challenge organised by Kims Hospital.

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and sleep apnea. The impact of lifestyle changes on body weight gain is considerable and these changes are thought to be responsible for the epidemic of NCDs with their observed health complications during adulthood. In Oman, the reasons for overweight and obesity have been attributed to sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy nutritional habits. There is a need to adopt physical education intervention programmes to improve the lifestyle characteristics of young Omani adults and increase their awareness about health risks, she adds.
Obesity is a growing worldwide problem with magnitude bigger than any other disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that more than 2.3 billion adults worldwide are overweight, and more than 700 million are obese.
WHO, in a report, points out that Gulf countries have the highest rate of obesity. Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are in the list of top ten countries worldwide in terms of obesity.
A medical journal published by the Sultan Qaboos University pointed out that 30 per cent of Omani population was overweight and 20 per cent of Omanis were obese.
“In all, 667,809 Omanis are believed to be overweight, while 445,206 are said to be obese,” the report stated.
A recent report in Lancet said Oman’s obesity rates stood at 20.6 per cent among men and 36.9 per cent among women.
Although figures for men in the same group too have seen an increase, the percentage for women is higher at 42.3 per cent compared with 24.5 per cent for young men, from 1980 to 2013.
The prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents ranges from 5 per cent to 14 per cent in males and from 3 per cent to 18 per cent in females. In adult females there is a significant increase in obesity with a prevalence of 2 per cent to 55 per cent and in adult males 1 per cent to 30 per cent.
“Abundant diet which is rich in fat, carbohydrates and processed foods, as well as a lack of physical activity are the main culprits for the higher number of obese cases,” says International Journal of Health Sciences report.
According to EC Nutrition Research Article, the factors underlying the rapid increase of western diets and fast foods consumption in Oman among others is the liberalisation of food imports from developed countries to meet the rising demand associated with the spectacular increase in income and wealth. The article points out other reasons like the proliferation of hypermarkets and fast food restaurants, creative food products marketing and promotion strategies and a lack of awareness of health problems of high caloric density, mainly foods rich in saturated fat and refined sugars.

SAMUEL KUTTY