Qatar residents — especially women — are among the most sedentary in the world, a new Stanford University study has found.
The report, published in international science journal Nature, found that people living in Qatar take some 4,158 steps on average each day.
That’s a ways below the global average of 4,961.
To arrive at their conclusions, scientists at the US-based university analyzed the steps taken by more than 700,000 people in 111 countries, using the data from the accelerometers on their smartphones.
Interestingly, researchers said that the number of steps taken wasn’t as important as how evenly divided activity was between men and women.
The bigger the gap in activity levels, the more likely it was that the country struggled with obesity problems, the report’s authors said.
“When activity inequality is greatest, women’s activity is reduced much more dramatically than men’s activity, and thus the negative connections to obesity can affect women more greatly,” computer scientist Jure Leskovec said.
Qatar was ranked most unequal in terms of activity levels on the index,. Women take 38 percent fewer daily steps than men (2,978 compared to 4,802).
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US also fared poorly when it came to activity inequality, and all of these nations also have a high prevalence of obesity.
At the top of the rankings were Hong Kong, China and Ukraine. In each of these countries, residents walked more than 6,000 steps a day.
‘Ticking time bomb’
Qatar and its neighbors’ poor scores likely don’t come as a surprise to many in the Gulf.
Just last month, medical experts warned that lifestyle-related diseases among women in the region are a “ticking time bomb.”
In a new study about GCC women’s health issues, researchers found that the highest prevalence of obesity was in Qatar.
A whopping 45.3 percent of women in the country were classified as obese based on their body mass index. And 61 percent of women in Qatar walked less than 20 minutes a day.
Similar rates were found in other Gulf states, according to the report, titled The Ticking Time Bomb in Lifestyle-related Diseases Among Women in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries.
This is in part due to a lack of facilities or access to fitness centers, the National reported.
The desert climate, a lack of social support and prevalence of household help also play a role, according to the study’s lead author.
Dr. Mashael Alshaikh explained:
“The social norms and the effect of urbanization, such as importing cheap labor to help the woman in the house — this limits the physical activity, even inside the house.
Data from the WHO shows that the countries with gender inequality have more health risks, that’s why we focused on cardiovascular disease prevention.”
To improve activity levels worldwide, Stanford researchers suggested creating an environment in which it is safe and enjoyable to walk.
Citing examples in the US, Dr. Scott Delp said:
“If you must cross major highways to get from point A to point B in a city, the walkability is low; people rely on cars,” he said. “In cities like New York and San Francisco, where you can get across town on foot safely, the city has high walkability.”
In Qatar, walking continues to be a difficult and sometime dangerous activity. This is due to ongoing construction, the heat and stares from passersby, according to some women.
However, authorities are working to establish more pedestrian-friendly interchanges, especially at “black spots” around the country.
What else do you think can be done to boost activity levels in Qatar? Thoughts?