Obesity and Diabetes in Saudi Arabia

Honey bunsAll is very quiet on the compound at the moment as a lot of the women have gone on break back to their home countries or on holidays to get away for the hot season and the upcoming Ramadan, Eid and Hajj.

On Friday Hubby and I went to the Red Sea Mall to have a walk around.  It is one of the best and biggest malls in Jeddah. Three stories high, good for exercising by walking in the heat of summer. We were there 4 hours. I took him to a little cafe that I had been taken to that sell delicious buns. They are light, fluffy and sweet inside with a surprise dob of melted butter in the centre, yet they are crisp on the outside.  They bake them fresh with glazes such as honey, which is what we had, caramel and chocolate…  Very different than anything we have ever had. He loved it.

Ramadan starts on the 9th of July and goes for a month until the 7th of August. Ramadan is always on the same day of the Islamic lunar calendar,  however the date on the Gregorian Solar calendar varies from year to year. This means Ramadan moves in the Gregorian calendar approximately 11 days every year. The next day the 8th of August is the Eid al-Fitr - the breaking of the fast. Also known as the sugar feast and the sweet festival.  It marks the end of the holy month of fasting.  Next comes the Eid al-Adha or the Hajj the annual pilgramage to Makka by some 6 million muslims from all over the world. Thus things are going to get pretty hectic around that time in October.  Good time for holidays.



Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which consists of 12 months and lasts for about 354 days. The word “Ramadan” is derived from an Arabic word for intense heat, scorched ground and shortness of food and drink. The month of Ramadan traditionally begins with a new moon sighting, marking the start of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Many Muslims (except children, the sick and the elderly) abstain from food, drink, and certain other activities during daylight hours in Ramadan. Gossiping and fighting are also prohibited in this period.

Ramadan is considered as the holiest season in the Islamic year and commemorates the time when the Qu’ran (Islamic holy book) is said to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. This occurred on Laylat Al-Qadr, one of the last 10 nights of the month.  Ramadan ends when the first crescent of the new moon is sighted again, marking the new lunar month’s start. Eid-al-Fitr is the Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Many eat a lot at night after sundown, after not having anything to eat or drink all day.  Some go on diets in the previous months because invariably they put on weight from eating at night what they would have eaten during the day.  Obesity and diabetes is a growing problem here in Saudi.

Female obesity is a Gulf-wide problem Picture by www.emirates247.com


Last Update 1 March 2022 12:04 am

At least 20,000 people in Saudi Arabia die every year due to complications from obesity, said endocrinologist Dr. Waleed Albakr.

Albakr, who works at Dammam University, and is promoting an awareness campaign to educate Saudis on the dangers of diabetes. The campaign, “Lose your weight and gain your health,” notes diabetes is often caused by obesity.
“Obese people usually die 10 years before people with a normal weight,” he said. “People who have fat on their stomach are more likely to get diabetes and have a higher blood cholesterol level.”
Albakr said that 40 percent of Saudis are obese. People from the south are more fit than those in other regions of the Kingdom. “Studies show that women are more obese than men. This is because of the effect of hormones and the lack of sports and movement.” The indigenous Saudi population seems to have a special genetic predisposition to develop type two diabetes, he said. Citing a 2012 report, he said, Saudis are ranked third in the world when it comes to laziness. No less than 68.8 percent of Saudi people are inactive.
Only the people of Malta and Swaziland are more lethargic. On top of that, Saudis are competing with Kuwaitis and Americans for the highest number of obese people. This is further amplified by an increase in obesity rates, a high rate of consanguinity, or marriages between family members and the presence of other variables of the insulin resistance syndrome, said Dr. Aayed Alqahtani, associate professor and consultant of minimally invasive and obesity surgery at the College of Medicine. Dr Alqahtani, who is also founder and supervisor of the multidisciplinary obesity clinic at King Saud University and King Khalid University Hospital in Riyadh, conducted obesity surveys too.
“The prevalence of obesity ranges between 16-25 percent in men and 17-43 percent in women,” Alqahtani said. “The most prevalent chronic diseases related to obesity in these populations are diabetes and hypertension,” he said. His surveys found that out of 195,874 participants, the overall prevalence of obesity in Saudis was 43.8 percent, while 35.1 percent were overweight. The prevalence of underweight was 1.3 percent.
The peak prevalence of obesity was observed in the age group of 50-59 years,” he added.
To document the prevalence of obesity in Saudi Arabia, Alqahtani used data from a cross-sectional study on 19,598 individuals in 2,837 households. “We found that the prevalence of obesity ranged from 33.9 percent in Hail to 11.7 percent in Jizan,” he said. “More women (23.6 percent) than men (14.2 percent) were obese. The data showed that 30.7 percent of the men and 28.4 percent of the women was overweight. We discovered that obesity was present in all age groups,” he said. “We also found that the mothers of obese and overweight children were usually less educated.


  • Easier said than done here in Saudi. Most of the Saudi’s are addicted to sugar because just about everything is high in sugar. Even cracker biscuits are high in sugar.We found it very hard to buy things without sugar in. Food and eating is very important to them and is part of their culture.

  • marc by marc jacobs shoulder bags says:

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  • Mary says:

    Have loved reading your blog, also saw your name on InterNations. Our family will be moving to Jeddah over the next few months. If poss would like to contact you directly as I have a million questions - we are from Sydney/Perth.

    • Butterflies & Rainbows says:

      Thanks Mary, I really enjoy it here. Feel free to contact me should you want to ask any questions. Lyn

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