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Obesity Crisis in Saudi Arabia: How Lifestyle Changes Are Impacting Health 

In recent decades, the global obesity prevalence rate has grown dramatically. The health effects of obesity are significant and burden individuals and government health agencies alike. Some of the most common obesity-related health conditions include heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. A 2016 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group demonstrated that there is strong evidence that a higher body fat percentage increases the risk of certain cancers, including breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. 

Although the correlation between obesity and cancer is not entirely understood, experts believe high body fat can lead to the excess production of hormones such as estrogen, adipokines, and insulin, as well as an increase in cellular growth factor hormones. These imbalances may create an environment in which tumour growth can proliferate.  

Obesity can also create barriers to cancer detection, as individuals may avoid or delay routine medical care, leading to a later diagnosis. 

Being overweight/obese can also lead to worse outcomes after a cancer diagnosis; people with excess body weight are more likely to face cancer recurrence and cancer progression, as well as higher risks of developing certain second primary cancers.

Understanding the Obesity Crisis in Saudi Arabia

According to the World Health Organization, obesity is quite prevalent in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Research shows that 68.2 percent of Saudi adults are overweight, and 33.7 percent meet the clinical definition of obese. This is nearly double the number of Saudi citizens who were obese 50 years ago. 

The obesity crisis in Saudi Arabia can be attributed to a number of factors. The development of the economy in the Persian Gulf region has brought about changes in lifestyle, such as a decline in physical activity levels and an increase in the consumption of processed foods and beverages. People reported consuming fewer fruits and vegetables and eating more calorie-rich fast food. Additionally, overeating at social gatherings is a contributing factor to the surge in obesity rates.

The health effects of the increasing obesity prevalence in KSA are dire. Overweight and obesity account for 27 percent of all deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCD) and 15 percent of NCD-related disability. Healthcare costs for overweight and obesity are around $3.8 billion per year, accounting for about 4 percent of Saudi Arabia’s total health expenditures.

The Saudi government has implemented measures to address the obesity-related disease burden as part of its Vision 2030 plan. The aim is to reduce obesity by 3 percent and diabetes prevalence by 10 percent by 2030. To this end, the government is mandating changes in food production and labelling.

The Role of Healthcare Providers in Obesity Management

Healthcare providers play a crucial role in obesity management. Clinicians can educate individuals about the health risks associated with obesity and share obesity prevention strategies with them. During routine exams, they can engage patients in discussions about dietary and lifestyle choices, providing an assessment of associated health risks and offering actionable solutions for risk mitigation.

Providers can offer advice about increasing physical activity and changing eating habits to reduce body weight. Pediatricians should also prioritize diet and lifestyle counselling, as Saudi youth demonstrate high obesity rates. Prioritizing obesity management can reduce cancer risk and other associated health issues later in life. 

Primary care providers can take a team approach to managing obesity by referring patients to additional specialists such as dietitians, physical therapists, psychologists, or weight loss specialists for appropriate advice and support.

In addition, providers should include guidance on cancer prevention measures, such as cancer screening, in routine health checks. Mammography and cervical and colorectal cancer screenings can assist in the early detection of cancer, leading to better treatment outcomes. 

Understanding the relationship between obesity and cancer can help healthcare professionals effectively guide their patients in managing cancer risks. To gain a deeper understanding, explore accredited oncology courses at MDBriefCase. Not a member? Join for free today!

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