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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Obesity Boom in Arab Countries

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Western Habits Fueled Weight of Women Prized for Size; Some Girls are Force Fed

Nouakchott, Mauritania - Jidat Mint Ethmane grew up in a nomad family in this improverished nation in the western Sahara. When she was 8, she says, her mother began to force-feed her. Ms. Ethmane says she was required to consume a gallon of milk in the morning, plus couscous. She ate milk and porridge for lunch. She was awoken at midnight and given several more pints of milk, followed by a pre-breakfast feeding at 6 a.m.

If she threw up, she says, her mother forcred her to eat the vomit. Stretch marks appeared on her body and the skin on her upper arms and thighs tore under the pressure. If she balked at the feeding, her mother would squeeze her toes between two wooden sticks until the pain was unbearable. "I would devour as much as possible," says Ms. Ethmane. "I resembled a mattress."

Today, Ms. Ethmane, 38 years old, is slender because her family ran out of money to continue the force-feeding technique, known as gavage. The term stems from the French word for the process used to force-feed geese to make foie gras. Yet in a recent interview in her family's one-room house, Ms. Ethmane sys she still believes in the practice. "Beauty is more important than health," she says. Her husband, Brahim, agrees: "It is thin women who are not healthy."

The belief that rotund women are more desirable as wives helps explain why much of the Arab world-which stretches from the Persian Gulf in the east to Mauritania in North Africa-is experiencing an explosion of obesity. About half the women in the Middle East are overweight or obese, according to the UN's World Health Organization.

Estimated Percentage of Women Overweight or Obese:
Bahrain: 83.0%
Lebanon: 75.0%
U.A.E.: 74.0%
U.S.: 62.0%
Morocco: 51.3%
Tunisia: 50.9%

New Obesity Boom in Arab Countries Has Old Ancestry [Wall Street Journal (subscription required)]
Don't go off that diet! [solohq.com, Dec. 29, 2004]
FORCE FEEDING IN MAURITANIA: The Occult Powers of Food [Points of Departure]
Fat is no fun - Mauritanian girls balk at force-feeding [Khaleej Times Online, March 28, 2004]
Mauritania's 'wife-fattening' farm [bbc, Jan. 26, 2004]

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