DUBAI: Obese journalist takes his battle of the bulge public in health campaign

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Mohammed Khan, a severely overweight reporter at the Dubai-based English daily Gulf News, avoided getting rides in other people’s cars because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to wrap the seat belt around his waist.

He didn’t buy a scale, figuring it would break if he tried to step on it.

Khan, in his late 20s, became a recluse, spending long period of times alone at his apartment playing computer games and binge eating.

He had, in his own words, hit ‘rock bottom.’

But after cholesterol problems that contributed to having his gall bladder removed, a diagnosis of diabetes and battling depression, the nearly 370-pound journalist decided it was time to take control of his life and get into shape, both for his own good and to spur public awareness about an apparent growing problem in his country.


Khan has pledged to lose 110 pounds in a publicized drive to fight obesity as part of Gulf News’ recently launched campaign called ‘Cut the Fat,’ which aims to spread awareness about obesity prevention and healthful living in the United Arab Emirates.

‘Many readers have written in sharing their personal stories; others have decided to lose weight and get healthy,’ Gulf News editor Abdul Hamid Ahmad told Babylon & Beyond about the campaign, which began in late November.

The UAE has been ranked globally among countries with the highest rates of obesity and diabetes. The World Health Organization attributed the high numbers of overweight people in the UAE to its nationals’ ‘high incomes and a taste for fast food and sugary drinks,’ according to Arab media reports.

Babylon & Beyond asked Khan, who had his first weigh-in earlier this month, whether he was making any progress in his boot-camp program for weight loss, what motivated him to keep going and what he thought were the best ways to battle the issue of obesity in his country.

Khan provides regular updates on his weight-loss quest on his blog and on his Twitter account.

What made you decide to take on this challenge and to publicize it?

It all started as a bet with my dad. We agreed that he would pay around $275 for every kilogram I lose and I’ll pay $275 for every kilogram I put back on.

After taking $3,800 from my father, I thought why not take this on to a bigger scale and do it for a good cause? I approached my editors, and they loved it. On a selfish point, publicizing it was also to make sure I don’t give up; my job and my reputation are on the line.

What are your overall goals with the program?

Well, my personal goals are to lose 110 pounds [50 kilograms] over the next six months and to control my blood sugar and get off the diabetes medication. But the bigger goal is to get people in the UAE to lead a healthier lifestyle and be more active, especially children, as Type 2 Diabetes is increasing in children and teenagers here.

How’s your weight-loss program going so far?

It’s still only one week into the campaign, and too soon for any changes to show yet. I had my first weigh-in on Dec. 5 and I had hoped to see some change to validate all the work I put in, but there was no change in my weight. It was very disappointing for me, even though I knew it was too soon, and this is part of the mental battle that comes with this journey.

What are the best and hardest parts of the program?

The training is the best and worst part. I chose to do my training at Contender MMA Center, the first dedicated mixed-martial-arts facility in the country. I love the sport and cover it for Gulf News. I’ve been pushing really hard, four days of straight training the first week that saw me cut my lip and sprain two fingers on my left hand and just feeling sore all over. But I picked this kind of training because I know that if I went to a regular gym, I’d get bored after a few weeks and start skipping training. With MMA, it’s different every day, and you’re never working alone; the whole gym is working with you, both staff and students are pushing you.

What motivates you to lose all this weight and get into shape?

My parents. My family has a history of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. But my parents have been the exception. I used to think that the look I get from them was disappointment, but now I know it’s fear. They are afraid that it is very possible that they will outlive their only child. That’s what motivates me.

And what about your inspiration?

What inspires me is when I see overweight people exercise, walking around the park trying to make a difference in their lives. I feel like cheering them on, and in a way I guess that’s what I’m doing.

I saw grade-school children training in jujitsu in Abu Dhabi last week, part of the education council’s school jujitsu program. Their energy was contagious. They made me want to go straight to the gym and train. Small things like that are what keep me going.

Do you think obesity is a big problem in the UAE today? If so, what needs to be done to get to the root of the problem, in your opinion?

Yes, it’s the biggest problem we have. Just look at the statistics. We have one of the highest rates in obesity and diabetes per capita. We are seeing more and more cases of Type 2 diabetes in children. Our sedentary lifestyle is killing us.

We are lucky to have good incomes, but the wealth has come at the cost of our health. We are always indoors and sitting down; we don’t walk anywhere except in malls. We even drive to the shop around the block.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m guilty of all this too, except maybe the good income. The change has to be a change in lifestyle, and it has to be done in schools. Children will motivate the parents.

No more ignoring physical exercise classes. What good is an education if you’re too sick to take advantage of it? We need more parks and recreational areas where people can get a chance to be more active. It’s also important to have more support for local sports.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut