FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

Overweight affects more than half the population of the Near East and North Africa region

A new report by FAO and IFPR studies the relation between food policies and overweight and obesity trends

©FAO - FAO and IFPRI representatives speaking during the launch of the report.

17 December 2020, Cairo - Obesity and overweight are on the rise throughout the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, and are particularly prevalent among women and children, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The Joint report, entitled “Food Policies and their Implications on Overweight and Obesity Trends in Selected Countries in the Near East and North Africa Region”, warned that many NENA countries have the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the world.

“The social, economic, demographic and political changes that the NENA region has been going through during the last three decades have greatly influenced the nature, scope and magnitude of health and nutrition problems,” Serge Nakouzi, FAO acting Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa highlighted today during a virtual event held today to launch the joint repot.

Nakouzi highlighted that while under-nutrition persists in the region, the burden of overweight, obesity and diet-related chronic diseases has been accelerating at unprecedented rates. “The coexistence of under and over-nutrition in the same family, community, and country is a burden that many NENA countries have to shoulder,” he added.

Relation between overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases

The changes in dietary patterns in favour of diets high in calories, along with sedentary lifestyles are among the immediate reasons for the soaring rates of overweight and obesity in the Near East and North Africa countries.

The report also highlighted that the region has very high prevalence of overweight and obesity in both adults and children.

Studies show that on average 60 to 70 percent of adults in the NENA region are overweight, with obesity rates amounting to about half of this. The prevalence of overweight is also increasing in nearly all countries of the region, even in low- and middle-income countries. The increasing trend in overweight among children is particularly concerning considering that this often leads to overweight and obesity in adulthood.

The report shows that the link between non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer turned overweight obesity into a major concern for policy makers in many NENA countries. Non-communicable diseases remain the major causes of death in many of the NENA countries, accounting for about 60 percent of annual deaths.

Trade, food policies and healthy diets are interlinked

Most countries of the region depend on trade for meeting their food demand. Food trade has the potential to increase the diversity of national diets by increasing the availability of different types of foods. “Increasing and ensuring inclusive trade can promote growth and lead to higher incomes, as well as provide revenues for governments and improve food access for poor people,” Máximo Torero, FAO Chief Economist stated during the virtual event.

Trade policies and government food subsidies represent important policy instruments and features in the region. Many NENA countries are known for long-standing food subsidy programs targeting mostly basic food items, including highly refined wheat, rice, maize, sugar, and cooking oil.

The report shows that these policies have important implications for reducing relative consumer prices of these food items, which may encourage people to over consume subsidized energy-dense food items, at the cost of relatively expensive nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts.

Torero emphasized the need to construct a new paradigm for the agro-food systems by identifying the nexus between sustainable food systems, inclusive trade, health and nutrition.

Improving food trade policies for a better health and nutrition future

According to the report, understanding the implications of trade policies for food systems as well as the trends in obesity rates and related health outcomes is crucial.

According to FAO and IFPRI, trade policies have the potential to influence global food systems and domestic food environments through their effects on the different components of the food supply chains.



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