Saturday, May 31, 2008

Oman - a nation of fat diabetics eating sugar & junk food?

A bit of a rant today. It always makes me feel sad when I see the contents of some of the baskets at the supermarket check out in Oman. Piled high with fake fruit drinks (you know the sort - mostly refined sugar and citric acid and not much fruit), fizzy drinks (1 cup of sugar in a can of coke), long-lasting sponge cakes (refined flour, sugar and fat), bags and bags of potato chips (starch, salt and ~40% fat), white rice, white flour, white bread, cheap pasta, corn oil. You’ll see these great kids, all bouncing around, begging for whatever extra sugary-crap they have at the checkout, while their parents are, lets say, packing more than a few spare pounds. And I'm sure a lot of the purchasing is well meaning, but just based on a serious lack of knowledge about how to eat well.

Diabetes is a huge problem in Oman. Reportedly around 15% of the adult population, and growing. (for comparison, the rate in Europe is half that). The reason is pretty simple – Omanis generally eat too much crap, don’t exercise enough, and too many adults are, lets face it, FAT. FAT FAT FAT. Its fortunate the national dress of Oman isn’t based on spandex and lycra I can tell you.

As body-mass index increases, the risk of diabetes rises exponentially. We can talk about ‘genetic predisposition’ but that often strikes me as a convenient excuse to avoid placing the blame where it belongs: our choices of life-style, diet and exercise. Instead of glowing PR when yet another fast food franchise opens in Oman, or when Pizza hut figures out how to get even more cheese down out throats, we should be complaining at yet another attempt to subvert the diets of our children. For a country with an acknowledged problem of diabetes, there seems to be more sugar consumed here than anywhere I’ve ever lived.

The Government should be doing a lot more to encourage healthier diets: fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat flours), skinless chicken and fish (not cooked to death either), olive and canola oil rather than corn and sunflower oils, and pure fruit juices. Hell, why not tax sugar and junk food?

But it’s not just Oman that continues to promote food that is bad for health. Here a story about Qatar too that mirrors what’s going on here. (and from the UAE based Gulf News – the Dragon’s preferred source of news about Oman!) Qataris on a fast track to serious health problems
Qataris on a fast track to serious health problems
Published: May 30
Doha: With the increasing popularity of fast food outlets among Qatari and expatriate residents, health officials have expressed concern about the long-term impact of junk food consumption on public health.

Since the first fast food outlet opened in 1995, at least 27 international fast food chains have set up hundreds of eateries across Qatar, changing the population's eating habits for good. The result is catastrophic, experts have warned, with diabetes spreading like wildfire among adults and children in Qatar.

"Obesity is the major risk factor leading to diabetes and the modern fast food culture is an important factor behind the increasing number of overweight children and adults all over the world.

"Unfortunately, governments and policy makers do not take the issue with the seriousness it deserves," said Samad Shar'a, honorary president of the International Diabetes Federation, during a recent visit to Doha.

Shar'a called for a total ban of junk food at least in school cafeterias, to protect youngsters from diabetes, a life-long condition that affects many in the Gulf. According to the World Health Organisation the prevalence of diabetes is 15 to 20 per cent in the Gulf region, against 8 to 11 per cent in South East Asian countries.


  1. This is a very good blog indeed. If you observe middle class Omani families coming for shopping, you can see them invariably giving their children one packet chips and once cola or fruit drink.
    Clearly there is a need to educate the people to change over healthy food and reduce eating dates because their forefathers were eating and they were healthy.

  2. Wow.. it sounds more and more like the USA (fattest nation in the world).
    And you know what's funny, it has always been known that the general Omani body-type is tiny, thin and short. I guess that's changing now, hu?

  3. Yep. Its about education I think. A lot of people just don't realise the odds of getting diabetes rise by a huge amount when your're fat and eat lots of sugar and carbohydrates.

    Maawali - see next post. USA is not fatter than you anymore! [but thanks for making me do some research on that!!]

  4. I don't think it's just about education. It's about a low standard of living as well as very little education in nutrition. It costs more to eat healthy. Whole wheat bread is more expensive that white bread. Low fat meat is much more expensive than meat with the fat on it. Frozen sausages and nuggets are dirt cheap compared to healthy foods.

    Do you know what one of the most popular breakfast sandwiches in Oman is? It's a hot dog roll filled with crushed Chips Oman with cream cheese spread (Laughing Cow triangles) topped with hot sauce!

    My friend teaches nutrition at SQU and she takes her students on field trips to the supermarket to show them what's healthy and what isn't. She is shocked at how little they know. If she asks them to choose for themselves they don't choose anything with real nutritional value at all.

    Eating healthy is hard. It literally requires conviction and a strong will. Add the high cost of food and eating junk becomes an even easier choice.

  5. the type of foods available commonly are of such type. and it is the influence of western culture and market. i myself increased to 120 kgs within 3 years of stay in oman (don't worry i am now 89kgs)
    but the traditional foods of oman are quite healthy. it is only the capital place where ppl are so. if you go to some interior places like ibri u still find the old good etiquette and friuts (dates, oranges)

    I think healthy food must be promoted (lik they tried in wadi kabir market)

  6. Muscati,

    I agree, price is an issue. That's why it might be appropriate for the Government to intervene in the market and tax unhealthy crap (perhaps incl cigarettes), and subsidise good food (whole grain bread, brown rice, olive oil). As well as put more resources into teaching this stuff at school.

    Plus, it is not the case that buying fast food crap is cheaper than making your own heathy food.

    Yeah, lets all blame 'western culture'. Boo hoo, nothings ever our fault is it? Tho I'm not sure Halwa is that good for you...

    I'm also pretty sure traditional Omanis didn't sit on their fat asses in big 4x4s honking the horn for the Indian to run out with a couple of shwarmas either... They were out herding goats and fishing all day, climbing date palms, fixing falaj, and building their own houses.

  7. "I'm also pretty sure traditional Omanis didn't sit on their fat asses in big 4x4s honking the horn for the Indian to run out with a couple of shwarmas either"


    THat is so true.

  8. Great blog, very true. I am visiting Oman for a few months to visit family (I live in the US) and it shocked me how most Omani's eat, can't lie. Great job on touching on the price of healthy food, and the lack on exercise...their culture doesn’t exactly promote people putting on workout clothes and going for a jog in the evening. If it isn’t too late now, it will be soon, I hope something changes drastically.

    Thanks for educating people.

  9. Do any one help me to get brown rice in oman, from which shop we can buy brown rice,here in oman there is 1type of brown colour rice is avilable,is it kerala rice or brown rice.. please let me know...


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