Saudi Arabia are world champions! But not in football.
As the FIFA World Cup enters gathers momentum, Saudi Arabia has secured the unwanted title of being the country in the competition with the highest rate of overweight and obesity. New figures, based on data from the World Health Organization reveal how the 32 finalists are facing an even bigger challenge than the top title in football: the obesity crisis.
According to latest data from the World Health Organisation, 70 percent of adults in Saudi Arabia are overweight or obese, more than double that of the lowest ranking World Cup country, Japan. England has the highest obesity score of the European countries and comes in fourth overall with a staggering 63 percent of adults registering as overweight or obese. Australia (third) and Mexico (second) highlight that obesity has run rampant across the world and urgently needs action.
Once again FIFA has officially partnered with big soda, big food, and big alcohol. We can expect to see the likes of Coca-Cola, whose campaign for the 2018 World Cup is ‘Being Ready’, lighting up stadiums in Russia, along with the world’s favourite football stars.
“These figures are a wake-up call to all the World Cup finalists. Just because you have qualified for the World Cup doesn’t mean your population as a whole are healthy,” said Chief Executive of the World Obesity Federation, Johanna Ralston. “Now is the time for bold action on obesity, including the introduction of sugar taxes, which have proven to be effective in a number of countries, including the UK.”
Obesity is a gateway disease to many non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and is now a problem in rich and poor countries alike.
“The obesity epidemic is a leading cause of ill-health in countries across the world, and governments in every one of these World Cup countries must act urgently to stop the crisis,” said Dr. Sania Nishtar, Co-Chair of the WHO Independent High-level Commission on NCDs. “It’s important to ensure that all children are able to play sport, enjoy a balanced nutritious diet and not be targeted by health-harming advertisements.”
A growing number of countries are adopting measures to tackle the obesity, in a sign that governments are waking up to the economic and social damage of this epidemic. Although the report of the WHO High-level Commission on NCDs fell short of recommending soda taxes, it is nonetheless a measure that is increasingly being used by countries around the world as one of a range of measures to tackle the obesity epidemic.
“Tackling obesity doesn’t have to be complicated, and countries which have recognised the scale of the problem and taken measures to fight it have already begun to see positive results,” said Mychelle Farmer, Chair of NCD Child. “We owe it to the next generation, whether or not they grow up to be football players, to prioritise this global disease.”
Later this year, world leaders will meet at the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss an international response to prevent NCDs, many of which have associations with obesity, from killing tens of millions of people across the globe each year.