Increased consumption of fast foods is among the factors contributing to a bloated population.
Increased consumption of fast foods is among the factors contributing to a bloated population.

Getting Fatter Faster

Improving physical exercise through public sport programs and events, equipping all city parks with sport equipment, and reducing salt consumption are among the measures taken by the government

Getting Fatter Faster

A changing food diet and inadequate physical activity has seen a population emerge where the majority is either obese or overweight, according to Zahra Abdollahi, director general of the nutrition office at the Health Ministry.
“Based on a study conducted in mid-2016 and analyzed recently on the principles of the World Health Organization’s STEPwise approach to surveillance (STEPS) in Iran, about 60% of Iranians aged 15-64 are grappling with obesity and overweight,” she told IRNA last week.
The increase is 70%-75% among 44-55 and 55-65 age groups, and is observed more among women. In the 2012 study, the figure stood at 48% on average, which showed a little increase over the previous figure of 45% indicated by the 2008 study.
The WHO surveillance is a simple, standardized method for collecting, analyzing and disseminating data in its member countries. By using the same standardized questions and protocols, all countries can use STEPS information not only for monitoring within-country trends, but also for making comparisons across countries.
The approach encourages the collection of small amounts of useful information on a regular and continuing basis through three different levels of assessment, including questionnaire, physical, and biochemical measurements.
There are currently two primary STEPS surveillance systems: Stepwise risk factor surveillance (for non-communicable diseases), and Stepwise approach to stroke surveillance.
“This study is conducted in Iran every 4-5 years and was last carried out in mid 2016, and before that in 2012,” Abdollahi noted.
Increased consumption of sugar-rich products (empty calories), oil and fat, thanks to fast food, sugary drinks combined with a small intake of vegetables and fruit are among the factors contributing to a bloated population.
“Our research shows about 90% of people do not have adequate physical activity which is important among women than men,” the Health Ministry official said.
The WHO approach focuses on obtaining core data on the established risk factors that determine the major disease burden. It is sufficiently flexible to allow each country to expand on the core variables and risk factors, and to incorporate optional modules related to local or regional interests.
  So Far So Good
Improving physical exercise through public sport programs and events, equipping all city parks with sport equipment, and reducing salt consumption are among the measures taken by the government.
Iranians consume three times more salt than the world average, and 40% of the problem is related to food intake and traditional breads.
Each Iranian on average consumes 160 kg of bread, 10 kg cheese, and 48 kg of yogurt and Ayran (‘doogh’) in a year. In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration has managed to reduce salt in food products by 10%, and bring down salt proportion in cheese and bread to 2% and 1.8% from 4% and 2%, respectively. However, as Iranians consume almost twice or three times more bread than other countries, the amount is still high.
An ultimatum was issued in 2015 to all bakeries to reduce the amount of salt in all types of traditional bread or ‘nan’. As the staple food item in the food pyramid of Iranians, the quality of bread is highly important in the general health of people. Iranians receive about 35% of their daily requirement of carbohydrate from bread.
After the measure, the salt amount in breads has been reduced from the previous 2.3% to 1%. However, the amount remains high (nearly 2%) in certain cities including Tehran. The amount of salt in traditional bread in Iran has been reduced by 50% over the past decade.
Carbonated drinks, soft drinks and kitchen sugar are three main culprits for high rate of sugar consumption.
Abdollahi said all sugary drink producers have been given a month to reduce the use of sugar in their products by 10% starting in September.
Per capita vegetable oil consumption in Iran is about 18-19 kilograms a year, while the global average is 12 kilograms, according to head of FDA, Rasoul Dinarvand. Currently, over 80% of the food products have ‘traffic light’ food rating tags on them.
Food labeled with a traffic light rating shows how much fat, saturated fats, sugar, and salt are in the product by using the traffic light signals for high (red), medium (amber) and low (green) percentages for each of these ingredients. Foods with ‘green’ indicators are healthier and to be preferred over those with ‘red’ ones.

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