Leading risk factors

The prevalence of risk factors for chronic disease has been increasing in recent years across all high-income countries, including Qatar.

The table below details the top risk factors contributing to mortality in Qatar, select high-income countries and the high-income Arab region.

Figure 9: Top risk factors contributing to mortality in Qatar and other countries, 2015
(Both sexes, all ages, 2015. Deaths per 100,000)

Figure 9: Top risk factors contributing to mortality in Qatar and other countries, 2015

(Source: IHME Global Disease Burden Study, 2015)

The top five risk factors for mortality in Qatar are high body mass index (BMI), high blood pressure, high fasting plasma glucose, ambient particulate matter and low consumption of whole grains. The combination of these risk factors significantly increases the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In addition, contributing to the mortality risk are high total cholesterol, smoking and physical activity, together with certain dietary habits such as high sodium intake and low fruit, vegetable and nut consumption. The top three mortality risk indicators are similar to Oman, Kuwait and the overall MENA region. Qatari nationals often do not suffer from just a single chronic disease risk factor, but rather experience the simultaneous effect and burden of several chronic disease risk factors.

Obesity

For the past few decades the number of people classified as overweight or obese has continued to rise. The issue has become so widespread that Qatar is now facing an obesity epidemic which has serious consequences. The 2012 STEPS report suggests a significant obesity epidemic in Qatar with:

  • 70.1% of Qatari Nationals (71.8% in men, 68.3% in women) are overweight (BMI ≥25 kg/m2)
  • 41.4% of Qatari Nationals (39.5% in men, 43.2% in women) are obese (BMI ≥30 kg/m2).

The percentage of people classified as overweight is particularly concerning as it is significantly above the WHO’s stated global prevalence of 39% – a figure already considered too high.

Figure 11: BMI among Qatari nationals

Figure 11: BMI among Qatari nationals
(Source: 2012 STEPS report)

Childhood obesity

Qatar, like most other high income countries, suffers from a childhood obesity epidemic that puts children in the high risk category for diseases that have traditionally been adult diseases such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

A childhood obesity rate study conducted in Qatar, randomly selected 315 primary school children and identified that 32% of boys and 33% of girls were overweight or obese.

As with adult obesity, lack of exercise and poor diet, with over consumption of calories, are the primary factors contributing to childhood obesity. The widespread availability and consumption of junk food (food that is high in calories and low in nutrients) has fueled the obesity epidemic among children. Additionally, calories consumed in soft drinks are a major factor, with many children consuming calorie dense fizzy drinks or juices rather than water or milk.

Health implications

Being overweight or obese significantly increases a person’s risk of developing long-term health conditions including diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and cardiovascular disease.

In addition to being at increased risk of developing health issues such as type 2 diabetes and respiratory problems, overweight and obese children are more likely to be absent from school due to sickness, suffer from sleep disorders, joint problems and social and mental health problems such as bullying and poor self-esteem.

The increasing number of overweight and obese children in Qatar is particularly concerning as numerous international studies have shown that obese children are more likely to become obese adults who are at risk of poor health.

Physical inactivity and poor diet

Though accurate data on physical activity and diet is scarce, it is generally acknowledged among experts that a large percentage of Qatar’s population fails to meet recommended levels of activity or exercise and that many healthy eating recommendations – such as consuming sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables, drinking enough water and limiting sugar intake – are not consistently followed.

The lifestyles of Qatar’s population has been influenced, and changed significantly over the last few decades – often negatively impacting on their health. While there is little accurate data available to support this, it is widely believed that people living in Qatar today live sedentary lives, eat more food and consume low-quality ready-made meals than people living in Qatar 30 or 40 years ago.

Health implications

The lack of physical activity and exercise, as well as a diet high in calories is associated with excess body fat and can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Sustained periods of inactivity and a diet lacking in nutrients may also lead to a weakened immune system and poor bone and joint health, while diets high in sugar can contribute to weight gain and poor oral health.

Healthy Lifestyle Objectives

Lack of activity and poor diet are directly related to the development of ill health and disease. This strategy places great emphasis on reducing these key risk factors with 6 specific Healthy Lifestyle Objectives.

The objectives endeavor to educate people about the importance of making good healthy lifestyle choices and provide them with greater options that encourage and assist changes in behavior.

The 2012 STEPS report suggests that for Qatari Nationals, the prevalence of having three or more cardiovascular risk factors was:

Figure 10: CVD Risk Factors

Figure 10: CVD Risk Factors

Healthy Lifestyle Objectives

  1. HL1 Reduce risk factors of chronic non-communicable diseases (unhealthy nutrition and physical inactivity)
  2. HL2 Increase overall public awareness on the positive health effects of healthy nutrition and engaging in regular physical activity
  3. HL3 Formulate and promote culturally appropriate and sustainable policies and legislations aimed at food diversity, healthy eating habits and increasing physical activity in the population
  4. HL4 Stimulate/increase the practice of regular physical activity across the population, with particular emphasis on schools, workplaces and targeted communities
  5. HL5 Establish wellness services and health coaches in primary healthcare centers focused on patients at risk of one of the four major risk factors (obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and malnutrition)
  6. HL6 Enhance collaboration with the private sector to promote the importation, production and distribution of food products which contribute to a healthier and more balanced diet