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 Table of Contents 
Year : 2006  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 53-54  

Obesity and physical inactivity among Saudi children and youth: Challenges to future public health

Professor and Director Exercise Physiology Laboratory King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Date of Web Publication28-Jun-2012

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PMID: 23012104

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How to cite this article:
Al-Hazzaa HM. Obesity and physical inactivity among Saudi children and youth: Challenges to future public health. J Fam Community Med 2006;13:53-4

How to cite this URL:
Al-Hazzaa HM. Obesity and physical inactivity among Saudi children and youth: Challenges to future public health. J Fam Community Med [serial online] 2006 [cited 2022 Jan 25];13:53-4. Available from:

Over the past three decades, tremendous changes have taken place in the pattern of physical activity and eating habits of Saudi children and youth. The dramatic lifestyle transformation is thought to have contributed immensely to the recent increase in the prevalence of obesity among Saudi children and youth. [1],[2] The rising trends in the prevalence of obesity reflect a population shift toward positive energy balance. Caloric intake and physical activity constitute the two modifying factors in the energy balance equation. Caloric dense foods are increasingly becoming accessible to Saudi children and adolescents and the time spent in sedentary activities has also increased sharply.

Although we have no published research documenting the patterns of physical activity and the prevalence of obesity in Saudi children and youth of past generations, anecdotal evidence indicates that they were fairly active, physically fit and mostly very lean individuals. Today's children and youth, however, seem to have become obese and have adopted a less active lifestyle. As depicted in [Table 1], Saudi children nowadays expend less energy in their daily activities compared with their counterparts three or four decades ago. Furthermore, our decade-long longitudinal assessment of Saudi youth indicates that the proportion of Saudi youth who are inactive and/or obese from childhood to early adulthood has substantially increased. [3] Most Saudi children and adolescents are now transported to and from school, especially in the urban areas of the Kingdom. Unpublished research conducted just in the past year by our team indicates that over 71% of the primary school children in Riyadh travel to and from schools by car. In addition, recent research from our laboratory, using all-day heart rate telemetry and accelerometry, indicates that nearly 60% of Saudi children and over 71% of youth are not active enough to meet the minimal weekly requirement of moderate to vigorous health-enhancing physical activity. [4],[5] Moreover, inactive and obese children and youth exhibit more CHD risk factors than their lean counterparts. [3]
Table 1: Comparison of energy expenditure due to some daily activities between current generation of Saudi children (today) and the past generations of children and youth (yesterday).

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Time spent watching television, videos, and computer games also contribute immensely to the inactivity epidemic and hence the prevalence of obesity in Saudi children and youth. Indeed, longitudinal assessment of Saudi youth from childhood to early adulthood showed that while physical activity levels were drastically reduced, television-viewing time was substantially increased. [3] Elsewhere, physical activity was found to be negatively associated with overweight, while watching television and video game use was shown to be positively linked to overweight in children. [6] Insufficient vigorous physical activity was shown to be a risk factor for higher BMI in adolescent boys and girls. [7] Recent research suggests that any scheme that decreased time spent in sedentary activities resulted in weight loss in obese children. [8]

Given what we know about the natural history of obesity in childhood, these findings should be of major public health concern. Obesity in childhood and adolescence has both immediate and future health consequences. [9] Sixty percent of overweight children already suffer from hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and/or hyperinsulinemia. [10] Childhood obesity was shown to be directly linked to abnormalities in blood pressure, lipid, lipoprotein and insulin levels in adults. [11] Moreover, increased obesity in childhood and adolescence is most often associated with Type 2 diabetes mellitus. [12] Impaired glucose tolerance was shown to be quite high in both obese children (25%) and obese adolescents (21%). [13] Furthermore, overweight children and adolescents are at a greater risk of adult obesity [14]

In conclusion, obesity and physical inactivity among Saudi children and youth is a crisis facing Saudi Arabia, and action to control it must begin now. Indeed, this crisis presents a challenge to our future public health. Given the current trends in pediatric obesity and the high prevalence of physical inactivity, it is more vital that preventive strategies be implemented throughout schools and in the community. Efforts designed to combat inactivity and childhood obesity must include education, research and intervention. Policy makers, health care providers, educators, and parents should all be involved in this strategy.

   References Top

1.Abalkhail B. Overweight and obesity among Saudi Arabian children and adolescents between 1994 and 2000. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal 2002;8:1-8.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Al-Hazzaa H. Rising trends in BMI of Saudi adolescents: Evidences from three national cross sectional studies. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006; in press.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Al-Hazzaa H. Health-related Physical Activity level and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in a Sample of Saudi Youth: a Follow-up Study. Final Report, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Riyadh, 2004.   Back to cited text no. 3
4.Al-Hazzaa H. Physical activity, fitness and fatness among Saudi children and adolescents: implications for cardiovascular health. Saudi Med J 2002;23:144-50.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Al-Hazzaa H. Prevalence of physical inactivity in Saudi society: A brief review. East Mediterranean Health J 2004;11:45-51.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Tremblay M, Willms J. Is the Canadian childhood obesity epidemic related to physical activity? Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2003; 27: 1100-5.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Patrick K, Norman G, Calfas K, Sallis J, Zabinski M, Rupp J, Cella J. Diet, physical activity and sedentary behaviors as risk factors for overweight in adolescence. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2004; 158:385-90.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Epstein L, Valoski A, Vara L, McCurley J, Winicwski L, Kalarchian M, et al. Effects of decreasing sedentary behavior on weight change in obese children. Health Psychol 1995;14:109-15.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Reilly J, Methven E, McDowell Z, Hacking B, Alexander D, Stewart L, Kelnar C. Health consequences of obesity. Arch Dis Child 2003;88:748-52.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Freedman D, Dietz W, Srinivasan S, Berenson G. The relation of overweight to cardiovascular risk factors among children and adolescents: The Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics 1999;103:1175-82.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Freedman D, Khan L, Dietz W, Srinivasan S, Berenson G. Relationship of childhood obesity to coronary heart disease risk factors in adulthood: The Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics 2001;108: 712-8.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Pinhas-Hamiel O, Dolan L, Daniels S, Standiford D, Khoury P, Zeitler P. Increased incidence of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus among adolescents. J Pediatr 1999;128:608-15.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Sinha T, Fisch G, Teague B, Tamborlane W, Banyas B, Allen K, et al. Prevalence of impaired glucose tolerance among children and adolescents with marked obesity. N Engl J Med 2002;346: 802-10.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Whitaker R, Wright J, Pepe M, Seidel K, Dietz W. Predicting obesity in young adulthood from childhood and parental obesity. N Engl J Med 1997;337:869-73.  Back to cited text no. 14


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