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Middle East Faces an Impending Diabetes Epidemic

posted on: Jul 3, 2020

Cases of diabetes are expected to rise dramatically in the Middle East over the next 26 years. A new report revealed that over 108 million individuals could be dealing with diabetes by 2045.

According to the International Diabetic Federation (IDF), over 39 million adults aged 20 to 79 have diabetes in the Middle East and North Africa. That number is expected to increase to a staggering 108 million by 2045.

Contributing Factors

The two main driving forces behind this worrisome trend in the Middle East are obesity and lack of physical activity.

Obesity is seen as the largest factor contributing to diabetes in the region. 8 countries in the Middle East- Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon – have the highest obesity rates in the world. Between 27 to 40 percent of the population in those countries are classified as being overweight.

Lack of physical activity is another reason for the surge in Type 2 diabetes in the Middle East. More than 60% of men and 73% of women in the Middle East Region have no physical activity as part of their daily lives. Sitting for long periods of time has been linked to a 112% increase in the risk of diabetes.

“A drop inactivity and unhealthy dietary habits have combined to form a variety of lifestyle diseases, and health professionals and researchers now consider diabetes as potentially the greatest epidemic in human history,” states Mansoor Ahmed, the Middle East and North Africa director for real estate, healthcare, and education and PPP for Colliers International.

The Impact of Diet On Diabetes

In addition to obesity and lack of physical activities, diet is another factor thought to impact the growth rate of diabetes. Changes in eating patterns have been changing for years due to urbanization and changes in income.

Only 38% of the Gulf Region eats fresh fruits and vegetables. These two food groups are known to help reduce blood sugar in individuals. Lower blood sugar readings mean a decrease in a person’s diabetes risk. Reducing carbohydrates also lower blood sugar levels.

Difference Between the Types of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when a person doesn’t produce insulin. In this kind of diabetes, a person is born with the condition. It can be managed with treatment, but cannot be reversed or cured.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when an individual doesn’t respond to insulin. Over time, a person could stop producing insulin as well. This condition isn’t one that a person is born with. It can be triggered by obesity or high levels of carbohydrates in one’s diet.

Type 2 diabetes can be treated with insulin injections and changes in diet. Weight loss, coupled with lifestyle and diet changes, can reverse the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes can also occur during pregnancy. This type of diabetes is called gestational diabetes. Once the pregnancy has ended, the woman reverts to her pre-diabetic state.

The Financial Impact of The Rising Diabetes Rate

The rising rates of diabetes will have an impact on global healthcare systems. Each year in the US, people with diabetes have healthcare costs that are roughly $16,752. This is almost double the amount of expenses a non-diabetic person spends on their healthcare.

In countries with universal systems, as the number of diabetics increases, so does the financial burden they place on their national healthcare systems. To pay for these increases, tax increases may be needed. Without tax increases, a reduction in services could occur.

Healthcare spending on diabetes in MENA (Middle East North Africa) was $21.3 billion. By 2045 that figure is expected to be $35.5 billion, which would be an increase of 67%. These numbers do not take into account any reduction measures undertaken by countries.

Saudi Arabia already spends 24% of its healthcare budget on diabetes treatment and care. The rate of diabetes in the Kingdom is one of the highest in the world. More than 1/3 of the country’s population is classified as morbidly obese.

Tactics To Combat Rising Diabetes Rates

Some Middle Eastern countries are looking for ways to bring these rates down in their countries. UAE has formed an obesity task force, instituted a sugar tax, and banned the marketing of unhealthy foods.

Other countries around the region are taking additional approaches to the diabetes epidemic that is sweeping the region. Saudi Arabia is rolling out initiatives to increase student participation in sports and to employ additional fitness coaches in the Kingdom.

The diabetes epidemic is rising across the world, including the Middle East and North Africa. But countries are noticing and starting to take steps to get this epidemic under control. From promoting healthy living and physical activity, countries are working hard to educate their citizens and bring the number of diabetics down in the region.


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