Kuwaitis' oil wealth causes rise in diabetes

Dhari al-Fadli, a patient being treated at a diabetes clinic in Kuwait, is a victim of the dark side of his country's economic boom. After his weight went over 19 stone, Fadli had to inject himself with insulin before every meal. He has now lost enough weight to stop the injections, but still has to take diabetic medication.

"We have a saying here that if you don't have diabetes, you're not a Kuwaiti," said Fadli, a 49-year-old father of five. In fact, more than one in five Kuwaitis suffer from the disease. Oil wealth has given Kuwait and nearby countries in the Gulf some of the highest per capita incomes in the world. But it has also created lifestyles – over-eating, high-sugar diets, cushy jobs and heavy reliance on cars – that are leading to an explosion of diabetes in the region, experts say.

Five of the 10 countries where diabetes is most prevalent are located in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF). Kuwait is third, Qatar sixth, Saudi Arabia seventh, Bahrain eighth and the UAE 10th. The rest of the top 10 are Pacific island nations with much smaller populations and Lebanon, which is fifth. A staggering 21.1 per cent of people in Kuwait suffer from diabetes, while prevalence rates are around 20 per cent in other GCC countries, IDF figures show. In the US, the rate is 9.6 per cent; worldwide, it is 8.5.

Genetic factors apparently contribute to the Gulf's high incidence of diabetes. But expatriates living in the Gulf have a higher incidence of diabetes than they do in their home countries. This suggests lifestyles are a major reason for this regional problem.

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