In a landmark announcement on COP28’s inaugural “Health Day”, a coalition of healthcare professionals and advocates publicly announced their dedication to evidence-based obesity prevention, treatment, and management in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Recognising the pressing need for collective action, the MENA organisations have committed to launching the Middle East and North African Association of Obesity in the spring of 2024 to address the region’s obesity challenges.
The MENA region currently faces some of the highest rates of obesity worldwide, and alarming projections suggest a significant increase by 2035 if decisive action is not taken. With nearly one in four children (64 million children) and one in three adults (212 million adults) predicted to be living with obesity according to the World Obesity Federation in the Eastern Mediterranean region by 2035, the coalition argues for immediate collaboration to ensure that those affected receive the necessary support.
In parallel, the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s latest flagship report highlights the exorbitant hidden economic costs of agrifood systems in Western Asia, exceeding $560 billion annually, largely driven by unhealthy diets. Global dietary patterns are shifting towards higher consumption of ultra-processed foods and beverages, contributing to the food system’s global CO2 emissions (20-35%), and undernutrition, obesity, and other dietary risks for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) constitute the biggest cause (19%) of ill-health and premature death globally.
For this reason, a new Middle East and North African Association of Obesity will be launched in the spring of 2024 to represent the region’s needs at a global level, foster learning and collaboration across countries, and call for increased investment in obesity. The economic toll of overweight and obesity in the region was estimated at $70 billion in 2020, a figure anticipated to more than double to $163 billion by 2035, underscoring the urgent need for concerted action.
Dr Sara Suliman, Chair of World Obesity’s Middle East and North Africa Working Group said “It is timely for those of us working in the obesity space to formalise our efforts and establish a regional obesity association that our respective national organisations would be proud to join. Our region has a long and successful history of cross-collaboration and learning, and we know that together, we have the tools and knowledge to treat our patients to the highest standards, improve our environments and ultimately reduce obesity prevalence.”
The coalition pledges to be at the forefront of implementing obesity policies and practices endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), as outlined in the WHO 2022 Obesity Recommendations and its Acceleration Plan. The coalition urges world leaders at COP28 to recognize action on obesity as a crucial aspect of climate mitigation and allocate a greater proportion of financing to public health.
Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation said “World Obesity are proud to support efforts in the Middle East and North Africa to establish a much-needed regional association of obesity. We know that each region has unique challenges and with that comes unique solutions. A regional organisation, upheld and supported by its national members, will be best placed to lead the way in ensuring that the WHO’s Obesity recommendations are appropriately implemented. It will be an honour and a pleasure to support our colleagues along the way.”
The Middle East and North African Association of Obesity, with the backing of the World Obesity Federation, aims to advocate for embedding obesity training in standard medical education, promoting obesity care under universal health coverage, and implementing evidence-based prevention policies for healthier homes, workplaces, and schools. The association aspires to eliminate weight stigma and serve as a driving force behind progress on obesity in the MENA region.
Dr Ebaa Alozairi, Co-Chair of World Obesity’s Middle East and North Africa Working Group said “It is paramount that Obesity is recognized as a crucial aspect of climate mitigation and that further funding is allocated to public health. Past siloed approaches have impeded progress. Now is the time to invest in the intersection of climate and health for the betterment of current and future generations. We are committed to leading the charge in improving the status quo for obesity in our region.”
As COP28’s Health Day progresses, the call to action resounds louder than ever, urging a unified global response to confront the intertwined challenges of obesity, climate change, and undernutrition. We are at a critical juncture, where concerted and serious efforts can pave the way for a healthier and more sustainable future for all.