Qatar has made huge strides in healthcare over the past 20 years, but is now contending with behavioral issues that have caused many people to fall ill or die prematurely, a new report has found.
The results, which identify traffic accidents as the top cause of premature death in Qatar from 1990 to 2010, would likely not come as a surprise to many residents, for whom driving is a daily stress.
Still, the Global Health Burden of Disease Study, which assessed mortality and loss of health due to diseases and injuries in 22 Arab countries, is likely the most comprehensive picture on the subject to date, and helps demonstrate where Qatar stands relative to the rest of the region.
For example, the issue of road deaths is also a common problem in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, countries in which it ranks among the top three causes of death, states the study, which was produced under the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Speaking to Doha News, Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at the institute, said the GCC has one of the highest road death rates in the world. Mokdad is a co-author of the study and has been presenting its findings in the Gulf over the past week.
He attributed the problem to several factors including speeding, not wearing seat belts, and a lack of enforcement.
“Most of the accidents we know from the literature in the Arab world is caused when the (driver) is overtaking another car.”
Young people may also feel as if there are no consequences for their actions.
“Shurta doesn’t stop you,” he said, alluding to cultural issues across the Gulf that could impede enforcement.
And even if some teenagers are given steep fines, the action may not deter them because cost is not a factor, he added. “These are wealthy countries where the cars are fast and the roads are wide.”
Other health issues that Qatar faces include rising incidences of depression, drug and alcohol abuse and an increasing prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
“Qatar is a very young population – 70 percent of the population is less than 40 years old,” Mokdad said. People are living longer, but also more commonly with chronic diseases.
“All across the Gulf, we drive more, we sit watching TV more… we changed our lifestyles. It’s not hereditary. We haven’t changed the gene makeup. We’re still the same people – the only problem is we’ve changed our behaviors.”
To alleviate some of the burden that chronic conditions are putting on healthcare systems across the Gulf, the report recommends:
A call for a return to a traditional diet and active lifestyle is urgently needed because risk factors such as high blood pressure and low consumption of fruit, nuts, seeds, and wholegrains in the diet, overweight and obesity, and physical inactivity have become important threats to public health.
The study also urges Arab nations to develop action plans to tackle obesity. The government has been focusing on its youngest at-risk segment in this regard, as studies suggest some 40 percent of Qatari children are obese.
Last month, it began holding youth camps to get severely overweight children moving and teach them about healthy eating.
And next week, the country will hold its third annual National Sport Day, giving residents a day off from work and encouraging them to spend their free time outdoors, at exercise-themed events organized around town.