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Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the obesity rate in Dubai. An inconvenient problem has now become a grave epidemic. I know you’re aware of this, as I read your recent article in which you were calling for a National Brainstorming Session to generate ideas to improve Dubai’s public health. I want to make a contribution to this debate.
Dubai represents a unique peak in the history of a civilization. From unknown to world stage in just over a decade. Who could have foreseen the unprecedented explosion of growth and wonder that would transform a tiny village into a Kingdom in the sand? Now we desperately need another transformation, but this time a transformation of the people. Our hotels and malls are peerless, and yet the public health is among the worst in the world.
We treat obesity as an economic, rather than social phenomenon. And while Capitalism undoubtedly created the problem, it does not have the DNA to provide the solution. When we offer gold as a weight loss incentive, we target the symptom
and ignore the cause. The symptom is excess weight, but the cause is the horrific landscape of food that has been allowed to take control here. Investment could indeed provide more hospitals, surgical procedures, and doctors to perform them, but no amount of money in the world can bring health to a people that eats the way we do. If you want to kill a weed, you have to target the root. If you want to kill obesity, you have to target the food.
I can get approximately 100 different trays of junk delivered to my apartment door. It’s fast, and it’s cheap. I know of 2 places that deliver salads: slowly, and at three times the cost. Our society financially incentivizes people to eat the food that’s killing them, and at the same time penalises anyone looking to make the healthy choice. Fast food restaurants outnumber healthy ones by 50 to 1. This year, McDonald's will open up 15 new restaurants in the UAE. And what about Burger King, Wendy's, Hardee's, KFC, Starbucks, IHop, Burger Shack, Chili's, Tim Horton's and the rest? This city is being carpet bombed.
The cards are stacked against us. Losing weight has become an incredible battle, whereas weight gain, the accepted norm. Despite everything, we are still moving forward. I counted 36 fast-food billboards in the 1km Tecom circle. What is the likelihood of making healthy choices when every 27 meters you’re reminded to
eat more burgers? These messages are being sent out from every conceivable space, yet there are people who have found a way to overcome. People turn their lives around every day at Circuit Factory. We’ve had incredible success stories, with each victory providing hope for others – proof of what is possible. Still, for every victory, ten more people cross the obesity threshold. Our movement is growing, but the only way we’re going to see a sweeping transformation is if we can change our environment. We want to be healthy. We’re not asking for a hand out, we’re simply asking for you to level the playing field. To give us the chance to beat the disease back to its rightful place — on the outskirts of society.
I come from a town that has been destroyed by drugs. They are everywhere, everybody ends up taking them. In Dubai, nobody has access to drugs, so it isn’t an issue here. With a strong stance, we prevent a problem from arising, and we are a superior society because of it. Why can’t we do the same with food? If you want to help people become healthy, you have to take away the things that are making them sick. Back home, the drugs are cocaine and ecstasy, here, it’s sugar and salt. On the 24th October 2014, Polish lawmakers took the decision to ban junk food from schools. I implore you not only to follow their example, but to take several steps further. Ban the advertising. Tax the companies that sell this toxic waste, penalise them for being here. Remove licenses, make it a privilege to
operate, not a right. If companies want to sell food, insist that it isn’t made of plastic. For every franchise that closes its doors, Dubai takes one step forward. Every company that stays will contribute money that can be reinvested in initiatives dedicated to the development of a genuinely healthy ecosystem of food. With the right stance — a strong stance — Dubai can become the engine of human progress in the 21st century.
They say this place has it all, but that’s not strictly true, because Dubai doesn’t have its health. If we are to survive, and thrive, we need to be socially, as well as economically ahead of the curve. A city of the future can’t just have the tallest buildings, it must have the healthiest people too. This makes a far bolder statement about humanity. What good is the most beautifully designed, awe-inspiring place in the world, if the people that live here are sick? Could there be any greater legacy for you to leave behind than the gift of health for the people? I love Dubai. I’m sure yours is a thousand times greater than mine. So please, help us usher in a new era for our city.
I really hope this letter reaches you. Thanks for your time.