You are what you eat. So eat healthy.

This article was originally written for and published by Awat Newspaper.

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions on a globally scale with WHO reporting that overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk for global deaths. At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese. Yet obesity is one of the most preventable diseases in the world. The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended. Globally, there has been: an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat, salt and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients; and a decrease in physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.

The largest problem with obesity however is the co-morbidities associated with it, such as cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke, some cancers, diabetes and musculoskeletal disorders. With type II diabetes being the most prevalent co-morbidity of obesity with an estimated 90% of type II diabetes shown to be attributed to excess weight, which is also a lifestyle related disease and very preventable.

The problem of obesity in Kurdistan also seems to be on the rise. In an interview with Rudaw Dr. Abdullah Saeed, a surgeon consultant in Duhok hospital stated that “Now there is an imbalance in nutritional items, which is why diseases are on the rise,” Dr. Saeed added, “Sports and movement have also decreased. Heart attacks are occurring at younger ages in the population. The average life expectancy has declined in the Kurdistan region and this needs to be a wakeup call.” General practitioner from Hewler Dr Alan Saadi Saeed spoke to me about his views on the obesity situation in Kurdistan. Dr Saeed regrettable informed me that there has been no epidemiological study to date in Kurdistan on obesity, however in 2010 he conducted a research study on the prevalence of obesity in children in the Hewler province and his results showed that 23% of all Kurdish children were obese. Dr Karzan M Abdullah, another doctor from Hewler, speculated that the reason for a rise on obesity in Kurdistan may be due to the dramatic change in socio-economic state and life-style causing an increase demand on fast foods and processed goods, in contrast to homemade and fresh foods. “Although there is no official data at the moment, it is clear that it is for the above reasons that obesity is increasing in Kurdistan.” Dr Abdullah then went on to reveal that there is currently data being analysed from a study which investigated 250 patients by screening for lipid profiles, obesity and weight and although the data has yet to be published it showed an increasing level of blood lipids (indication of fat in the body) and weight in young individuals in the population. Suggesting that increasing weight is becoming a problem in the Kurdish population in Kurdistan and it is affecting our young adults and children more than ever.

In the Rudaw article Dr Abdullah Saeed highlighted that educating people about issues surrounding obesity and its co-morbidities is the task of the Ministry of Health “If the Ministry of Health preoccupies itself only with treating patients, then it becomes the Ministry of Patient Treatment,” he says. “The ministry has to protect people from getting sick,” which goes back to what I say in every single article I write about health issues: Prevention of any disease is key and the best prevention is education.