Overweight and obesity has become as much of an epidemic worldwide, as it is in North America, affecting approximately 1 in 10 children. “In 2007, an estimated 22 million children under the age of 5 years were overweight throughout the world.” (WHO, 2009). There has been a substantial increase in child obesity in developing countries due to the adoption of the unhealthy lifestyles and behaviors of the Western world. Recently, high rates of childhood overweight have been reported in many transitional societies including countries in the Middle East because of their unique prevailing cultural and social factors. For example, adult overweight and obesity rates in many countries of the Eastern Mediterranean now exceeds 65% (A. Alwan, personal communication, WHO, 2008). “The prevalence of overweight in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is one of the highest in the world: over 30% of all children in the U.A.E. are overweight or obese” (Malik &Bakir, 2007, p. 17) with studies showing a consistent increase in both conditions occurring amongst male and female 2 to 18 year olds (Khader et al., 2009).
This brief will examine the meaning of childhood overweight and obesity, and discuss how it is affecting the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Using the case of Ras Al Khaimah, the northernmost Emirate, it will also address some of the challenges children face in regards to physical activity and healthy eating. The brief will conclude by providing recommendations for policy makers on ways to reduce obesity and promote healthy lifestyles in Ras Al Khaimah and the UAE in general.