Chubby Dubai citizens worth their (lost) weight in gold

A man passes a Dubai shop displaying gold wedding jewelry. More than half of the citizens of the United Arab Emirates are overweight or obese, the World Health Organization reports.
(Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press)

The flowing robes and abayas shrouding the people of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates can’t hide the truth of a federation-wide weight problem.

So the city of Dubai, famous for its opulent shopping centers and towering skyscrapers in the desert, on Friday will launch a public drive to get UAE residents on a diet, the Emirates24/7 website reports. The “Worth Your Weight in Gold” program will pay those who shed at least 2 kilograms in the next month – 4.4 pounds – the equivalent of $45 per kilo and give the top weight-losers a shot at a $5,000-plus jackpot.

The World Health Organization reports in “The Weight of Affluence” that the country’s affinity for fast food and sugary drinks has led to more than half the 5.5 million citizens becoming overweight or obese. Diabetes is also skyrocketing, the report noted.


The expanding waistlines and cultural disinclination to exercise have encouraged Dubai officials to stage the weight-loss competition from Friday through Aug. 16.

“We carry out a number of health initiatives every year to benefit the community, and this year’s event aims to encourage adults and children to lose weight and be healthy,” said Eng Hussain Nasser Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality, reported Wednesday.

A 20-pound weight loss, for example, would earn the dieter about $450.

That sum might be an added incentive for those trying to slim down but in a country with the 15th highest GDP per capita in the world -- nearly $50,000 a year -- the promised payoff may not be powerful enough to separate citizens from their Big Macs and pistachio-stuffed pastries.

Despite the federation’s wealth, the government spends comparatively little on public health, ranking 172nd in the world with only 3.7% of the state budget devoted to medical care, according to the CIA World Factbook.


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