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Qatar tackles weighty problem with national sport day

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Doha: More than a million Qataris were given a day off work on Tuesday to take part in a nationwide day of sport amid growing concern at obesity levels in the state.

Although the annual Qatar National Sport Day is meant to be a fun event with beach volleyball, jogging, fitness boot camps and even a screening of the boxing movie Rocky, it contains a serious message.

Qatar, for all its recent association with sport, has a weight problem.

The first results from an ongoing two-year study by the Qatar Biobank, a medical research facility, published at the beginning of this year found that 73 per cent of Qataris were classified as “overweight or obese”.
The same research — covering 1,200 Qatari nationals and long-term expatriates — also discovered that 76 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

And only two in ten Qataris do any kind of exercise each week.

‘Lifestyle issue’
Hadi Abdul Rahim, managing director of Qatar Biobank, says the obesity problem is “a lifestyle issue” and is typical of “a country [which] is growing and developing quickly”.

The problem is so grave that accounting giant PwC has advocated that Qatar introduce a tax on fatty foods to encourage healthier eating.

National Sport Day locations also include “diet shops” and there are cash prizes offered for those Qataris who have lost the most weight throughout the year.

It is the fourth consecutive year Qatar has held the event, which gives the working population of more than 1.2 million people a day off — traditionally on the second Tuesday in February.

Athletes such as British double gold medal Olympian runner Kelly Holmes were invited to attend.

Other events included a one kilometre children’s run, beach tennis and a “5,000-step journey” — a roughly 40-minute walk for families.

Shaikh Saud Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, secretary-general of the Qatar Olympic Committee, said the Gulf state faced similar problems to other nations where driving to work, sitting in an office or in front of television or computer screens mean people are less active.

“It is a problem everywhere in the world,” Shaikh Saud, a keen cyclist, said.

“The most important thing is to make awareness for sport for the whole year.

“It is not meant for one day. One day is like ... the wake-up call, to make you understand how sport is important in your life.”


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