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Health habits

August 28, 2008

A very interesting study was published in 2003 by the late Fawaz Shehab (Odeibat) and his co-workers. Fawaz was a good friend of mine, and his loss was a personal one for me. In the study, he analyzed data gleaned from the Department of Statistics’ Jordan Population and Housing Census of 2002. A number of questions were added to the survey to measure the presence of some chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes and obesity) and related behavioral patterns (smoking and exercise). While obesity is not a disease in itself, it is correlated with cardiovascular problems, specifically hypertension, and thus does represent a public health issue. Unfortunately, no data seem to have been collected on eating habits.

One might quibble about the methodology, which relied on self-reporting. However, the sample size was large enough (almost 9000) to give a reasonable indication on these issues. The data show that over 50% of males and 8% of females are smokers. They also show that only 52% of people have any weekly physical activity, and less than 32% have any vigorous physical activity. As a result, 10% of males and 16% of females are obese, and 36% of males and 28% of females are overweight (remembering that these numbers are self-reported).

So, the National Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Genetics (who have a very informative website), under the leadership of Professor Kamel Ajlouni, have been studying changes in diabetes levels. Their research shows that diabetes has increased by over 31% over the past ten years, and is currently at 17% (compared with a US average of 7%, as stated by the editor of Shehab’s article), with 8% of people being in a borderline state. Shehab’s article reports a 6.4% prevalence of diabetes, reflecting how data can change when methodologies do. I would place more stock in the NCDEG results on this issue.

It is clear that there is a lifestyle problem that is exasperating the problem of chronic diseases in Jordan. I would hope that people would heed the call of Dr. Ajlouni to increase awareness of the importance of diet, physical activity and facilitation of the environment to encourage walking.

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