Kuwait: Friends and Families Shape Up with a New Weight Loss Reality TV Show

by Anisa Benmoktar on May 27, 2010

A Kuwaiti friend of mine passed me an article about a new “diet” program on Kuwait TV that I’d like to share with you…

The article in The National spotlights Kuwait’s unprecedented growth – its rapidly expanding economy – and… waistlines. Thanks in part to the arrival of International fast-food chains, and to modern, “convenient·· sedentary lifestyles, many Kuwaitis have found themselves battling with the bulge. It’s a familiar story: many other countries around the world, including Spain, where I live, are wrestling to reverse such trends piled on by our “modern lives”.

Kuwaiti TV challenge: Svelte intentions

One Kuwaiti dietician has come up with a new, and equally international solution to this problem in his country. Ahmad al Haifi, assistant professor at the Kuwaiti College of Health Sciences, has created a pilot for a reality television program featuring 20 young Kuwaitis as they try to shift the pounds.

Based on the US TV show “The Biggest Loser”, the show will be the first of its kind in the Gulf region. It has already received the “Ethical approval” of the Kuwaiti ministry of health.

US TV show "The Biggest Loser" helps Americans to lose weight and to change their lives for the better.

“The aim is to reduce about 10 to 20 per cent of the excess body weight within six months for the obese adolescent boys – this is the main goal.” Mr. al Haifi told the National.

Rewarding Success

Cameras will accompany boys in their daily lives, while dieticians monitor their progress and educate them, their friends and their families on the best ways to lose weight. The show will also consult “celebrities” for their advice and award prizes, including “maybe a car” to the most successful slimmers.

Mr. al Haifi describes the program’s strategies as “pinpointing the causes of obesity, identifying where the calories are coming from, co-operating with friends and monitoring weight-loss.”

The idea of the new TV program has been well received by Kuwaitis, 100 of whom turned up to a lecture given by Mr. al Haifi, to potential contestants, and their friends and families. Teenagers hoping to be selected filled in forms about their eating habits and got weighed.

Friends and Family Pitch In

“I’m so fat, and I want to be smaller,” said Mohammed al Moumen, a 15-year-old who weighs 95 kilograms. “Maybe I’ll have health problems in 20 years. I eat junk food every day and I never do any exercise. This is a real problem with the youth of Kuwait.”

Hussein al Sayer took his son, Ali, 17, who weighs 103kg to the lecture. He said he liked the show because the diet is supervised by experts and “takes it easy on the children”.

“Ali sits and watches Real Madrid and Barcelona play football on TV, but he doesn’t play himself. The Internet and the PlayStation have affected all children in Kuwait. Twenty years ago, you had to do sport because there was nothing else to do,” Mr. al Sayer said.

Sign of the Times

Kuwait’s oil wealth has brought wonders and woes to this Gulf country, magnetizing International companies such as McDonalds, which opened in 1994. The first day the fast-food chain opened, 15,000 Kuwaitis and a seven-mile-long queue of cars lined up to be served.

Sami al Bader is a dietician with Diet Care, a health-food company that has run the Get Healthy Kuwait program in co-operation with Taiba Hospital since June. It’s as bad as it can get anywhere in the world,” Mr. al Bader told The National.

“Around 80 per cent of Kuwaitis are overweight or obese and around 26 per cent have, or will soon have, diabetes.” According to Mr. Bader, Kuwait’s harsh weather encourages people to stay indoors and travel in their cars, while Bedouin traditions encourage people to eat more.

Food Glorious Food…

“Our lives revolve around food. If I visit my family today, I’m going to be given seven or eight plates of food. If I visit my friends after that, I’ll get another seven or eight plates,” he said.

While international imports can take the brunt of the blame, Mr. Bader adds that many young Kuwaitis socialize with their friends in restaurants serving meals packed with twice as many calories as their home-cooked equivalents and points out that “a shawarma is just as bad as a Big Mac in terms of calories and fat”.

While it may be a unconventional approach, I’m inspired by this Kuwaiti initiative and believe a lot of other countries could take a leaf from its book.

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