The young Emirati, then 25, weighed about 180kg (nearly 400 pounds). Now half that weight, Ahmed says friends and family barely recognise him.
Ahmed lost his flab after consulting Dr Gabi Wazz, a general surgeon at Dr Sulaiman Al Habib Medical Centre in Dubai.
Dr Wazz’ procedures — like gastric band or bypass operations — help patients shed pounds quickly. These days business here is up 600 per cent, says Dr Wazz probably because obesity in this nation is also on the rise.
The UAE is the fifth fattest nation in the world. Statistics point out that Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE may be some of the wealthiest nations in the world, but they have also become some of the most obese.
“My wedding was a few months ago. And I got people coming in to congratulate me, asking me where the groom was. I’m like, I’m the groom. No way, this is you, they asked?” explained Ahmed.
“I lost 90kg.”
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“Locals are shifting from their healthy way of living and eating to this modern life. Fast food, fast cars, not walking, not going to the gym … genetically their bodies are not meant to have such a life,” explains Dr Wazz. More than half the Emiratis are overweight, according to recent statistics.
The problem with rapid modernisation and westernisation, say experts, is diabetes. Diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, like fast food, can lead to type-two diabetes in adults. One in five Emiratis now have the disease. It’s a recent problem, but one the government is trying to solve.
In Abu Dhabi, the government is trying to change habits among the youth. Children now have only healthy food options at schools. Calories are counted in a bid to end a growing epidemic.
“We’re very concerned because 35 per cent of the children suffer from obesity. And 50 per cent of them are at risk of developing type-two diabetes,” said Hanan Al Sahlawi from the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
Officials fear the economy could suffer, too. The UAE provides universal health care for its citizens, and costs for diabetes treatment could soar in the next decade. Doctors use international guidelines that define who gets bariatric surgery based on how obese they are. But other doctors worry that some are opting for an unnecessary and potentially risky procedure. “Some people think it’s an easy fix to a problem. They’re fed up of being overweight. Women, for example, come from a cosmetic point of view. Others from a health point of view. And they think that having a band, for example, which is the easiest type of bariatric surgery is a quick solution,” opines Dr Wael Abdulrahman Almahmeed, a cardiologist.
For Ahmed, it was quick but not easy. He’ll be on supplements the rest of his life. Still, he says bariatric surgery was worth the risk. “This is the only way out of obesity, I think. Because working out and dieting, someday you’ll gain,” said Ahmed.
The issue of obesity and bariatric surgery will also be covered by CNN’s November show ‘Inside the Middle East.’ Host Zain Verjee will visit Dubai to discover how increasing numbers of Emiratis are turning to stomach stapling surgery to shed their pounds before she travels to Kuwait where nearly 70 per cent of the men are overweight.