Lifestyle diseases in Oman's health ministry crosshairs
February 6, 2018 | 9:28 PM
by Madiha Asif / Ismael David Mujahid
UN has chosen Oman to be a model for the rest of the world in controlling the incidence of NCDs.

Muscat: Just four medical conditions account for 73 per cent of all deaths in Oman, health chiefs have revealed.

Ministry of Health (MoH) is all set to crack down on poor habits of residents in the Sultanate.

Cardiovascular ailments, hypertension, cancer and diabetes were revealed to be responsible for 72.9 per cent of deaths in the country in 2016. The ministry is hoping that their soon-to-be-launched National Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) will reverse this trend.

Dr. Ali Talib Ali Al Hinai, Undersecretary for Planning Affairs at the Ministry of Health, said: “The four diseases that we are targeting have four risk factors: smoking, lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet, and alcohol. Based on these four, the United Nations (UN) has announced that we have to make a global commitment to control NCDs. Each country has to have a plan and a policy to reduce these diseases by 25 per cent by 2025. Oman was chosen by the UN to be one of the countries that will be a model for the rest of the world in order to implement this kind of policy.”

Dr. Ali Talib Ali Al Hinai

Some 46 per cent of Omanis and 70 per cent of expats, nearly 2.5 million people, are between the ages of 15 and 39 years and could be among the most adversely affected by a poor diet and lifestyle choices.

“These days, 90 per cent of youngsters who come to our gym don’t come to build muscle, but to lose weight,” fitness instructor Don Pradeep Kumar revealed. “A lot of people want to change their habits. It is just that they don’t know how to get into that. Even an hour of exercise a day does wonders,” he said. Edward Atkinson, another gym trainer, said: “Most of my clients are between the ages of 21 and 36 years and are struggling with excessive fat. We can only push them to work hard at the gym and provide them with a healthy diet plan. The effort has to be made at their end.”

Echoing the sentiment, Dr Basheer, senior internist and diabetologist at Badr Al Sama’a Hospital, said: “These days, we have more young patients with obesity-related problems. They give us a history of eating junk food. We’re getting an increasing number of people in their 30s and 40s. If you are overweight or obese, you have about 80-85 per cent risk of developing type-2 diabetes, particularly if you have excess weight around your stomach.”

What’s even worse is that eating this way could possibly lead to colon cancer.

“Junk food contains a lot of trans fat, which are toxic and cause cardiac problems and colon cancer. This problem will show itself in the long run because of the toxin build-up in cells,” Basheer said.

Dr Mostafa Waly, associate professor at the Sultan Qaboos University’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition and a nutrition expert at the College of Agriculture and Marine Sciences, said: “Being overweight and obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer even when physical activity is accounted for. Sedentary behaviour, overeating, and perhaps a diet high in meat can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Lifestyle changes could decrease this by as much as 60-80 per cent.”

His colleague, Dr Jumana Saleh at the Department of Biochemistry, added: “Abdominal obesity among the youth is on the rise. The young ones don’t understand that it can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, gallstones, and other chronic illnesses at an early age.”

Expressing worry, Khezia Resma, a dietician at Burjeel Hospital, said: “An increasing number of younger people prefer on-the-go foods but they are normally calorie dense due to a high content of fat and sugar, and have no nutritive value.” And just like the quick-fix solution that junk food offers, some young residents in Oman are resorting to extreme measures to keep the weight off. An Omani national, who developed weight-related diabetes and heart trouble, said: “I used to weigh 120kg when I was in college. I enrolled at a nearby gym to lose some weight but running 100 metres felt like running a mile. I was heartbroken. I had no choice but to undergo gastric banding.”

Another expat, who tipped the scales at 160kg, also had no alternative but to undergo bariatric surgery, which shrinks the stomach. “My condition was extreme and I needed to lose weight fast. What else could I do? This caused a lot of friction among my family but I was desperate,” he said.

According to the 2017 Statistical Handbook released by the National Centre for Statistics and Information, 1,094,955 Omanis and 1,390,229 expats are currently between the ages of 15 and 39. As many as 8,828 people died in 2016, up from 8,167 the previous year. Of these, 1,528 were between the ages of 10 and 39 years.

Further, the Ministry of Health reported that as of 2016, eight for every 10,000 people in Oman suffered from diabetes, and six had hypertension. Nearly 25 per cent of all hospital deaths were from cardiovascular diseases and a further 13.4 per cent were cancer-related. A steady increase in the number of lifestyle diseases was recorded, with 44 per cent of outpatients and 40.3 per cent of inpatients reported to be suffering from them.

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