Is Free Gold an Effective Weight Loss Incentive?
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Is Free Gold an Effective Weight Loss Incentive?

Dubai residents need more than money to solve the obesity problem.

Is Free Gold an Effective Weight Loss Incentive?

 As if wealthy citizens of the UAE didn’t have enough gold, two prominent organisations in Dubai are banding together to offer them even more, except this time with an interesting twist: they’ve got to lose some weight to get it.

In an unprecedented move to inspire the city’s population to get fit, a new program “Worth Your Weight In Gold” promises to pay Dubai residents a gram of gold for every kilo shed. The catch? There is none, except that a minimum of two kilos (that’s about four and a half pounds) is required to receive a payout.

Sponsored by Dubai Multi Commodities Centre and Dubai Gold and Jewelry Group, the program has already ignited a debate around the world, with coverage in the L.A. Times, along with a host of other popular news media outfits.  

Do residents of Dubai really need more gold?

The country already has the 15th highest per capita GDP in the world - about $45,000 per year. Consider that for the modest sum of $450, one would need to lose 10 kilos or 22 pounds - a considerable achievement given that the program runs for just one month.  

Another small hitch - according to a recent Philips Healthcare Study, while over half of Dubai's residents are overweight, only about 25 percent beleive this to be so. So where’s the incentive to lose weight?

And yet however flawed the program may be, the UAE needs to start inspiring its citizens to better health. The obesity epidemic is growing at an alarming rate, similar to what is happening in the U.S. As the economy grows and the immigration population continues to rise, so does the demand for more and more fast-food chains, local quick-stop cuisine and the like.  

Fast-food problems

American chains like KFC, McDonald’s and Subway are becoming hugely popular, but the demographic of people eating these ultra-unhealthy foods is considerably different in the UAE. While in America fast food is reserved mostly for the poor and underprivileged classes, the same is not true outside the Western world. Even the affluent - including those who have their own private chef in residence - are also regularly eating these foods.

Further aggravating the problem is that local food is also high in fat and nutrition-poor carbohydrates, meaning there aren’t many places serving healthy fare on-the-go or otherwise.  

Nearly 40 percent of UAE children are overweight or obese. The school system has placed no restrictions on peddling soft drinks, french fries and burgers in the high school cafeterias of Dubai.  Ten years ago the World Health Organisation reported that over half the UAE is overweight or obese.

Other schemes

A culture of healthy eating and exercise simply does not exist. Of some 300 runners in the most recent Dubai half-marathon, not one was from the UAE. Despite the 91 sports centres and numerous walking paths, it’s difficult to encourage residents - the majority of whom watch three hours a day of television or more, according to recent reports - to get outside.

Residents rely on the immigrant population for a large part of its labour. Consider that the UAE has the largest immigrant population in the world: only 17 percent of Dubai residents are Emirati. Expatriate labour is the new standard of living. Householders are accustomed to having a housemaid for cleaning, a driver for going absolutely anywhere, and food delivery from any restaurant in the city, among other luxuries most people in the world could never dream of.

Is gold what it’s going to take to get the country back in shape?

Likely not, but it’s a start. Fundamental lifestyle changes will be necessary to get the nation’s health back on its proverbial feet and into a pair of runners.

Getting healthy will require a much larger commitment than one month and a few grams of gold. Currently, government investment in health care represents about 3.7 percent of the state budget, putting the UAE at 172nd place when compared to other countries.

But it’s not all bad. The “Yallah Walk” in March 2011 was hugely successful in Dubai. About 45,000 residents including many Emiratis signed up to support the largest (and probably most successful) health campaign the city has ever seen, raising awareness about the city’s plethora of walking paths and sporting facilities.  

There’s no doubt a unique approach to weight loss is needed in this region. A good idea might be to start by dropping the term “weight loss.” Though the extra weight is most definitely a large part of the problem, the solution is probably not in a month of crash dieting. Educating the nation on proper nutrition and the benefits of regular exercise seems like a more sustainable solution.  Or maybe it’s time to put some of the private chefs to work?

Dubai is a unique place

There’s nowhere in the world like it. Any public fitness program deserves some applause for attracting attention to the growing epidemic in Dubai, but it’s going to take more than gold to get the population moving.  

The “Worth Your Weight in Gold” program ended August 16, and the biggest losers had the opportunity to win $5,000 in a random lottery.


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