Amidst growing concerns of obesity levels, more than a million Qataris were given a day off work on Tuesday to take part in the annual Qatar National Sport Day. It is the fourth consecutive year Qatar has held the event, traditionally on the second Tuesday in February. Athletes such as double Olympic champion British runner Kelly Holmes were invited to attend the event.
The first results from an ongoing 2-year study by the Qatar Biobank, a medical research facility, published at the beginning of this year found that 73 percent of Qataris were classified as 'overweight or obese'. The same research, covering 1,200 Qatari nationals and long-term expats, also discovered that 76 percent of men and 70 percent of women are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). Only 2 in 10 Qataris do any kind of exercise each week. The same research also revealed that 45 percent of women had gained weight in the past year, though there was no comparable figure for men.
Hadi Abderrahim, managing director of Qatar Biobank, said, "The obesity problem is a lifestyle issue and is typical of a country (which) is growing and developing quickly."
Accounting giant PwC has advocated that Qatar introduce a tax on fatty foods to encourage healthy eating. National Sport Day locations also include 'diet shops' and cash prizes are offered for those Qataris who have lost the most weight throughout the year.
Among the venues used was Doha's Aspire Academy, usually a hothouse for potential professional talent but, was taken over by enthusiastic amateurs trying out a variety of sports including yoga, cycling, football and climbing. People present there claimed that they were unable to do more exercise because of the demands of work and the country's inhospitable climate. Other events held across Qatar included a children's run, beach tennis and a 5,000-step journey, a roughly 40-minute walk designed for families to take part together.
Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman 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. 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."