Dubai’s overweight population is about to get a whole lot richer—that is, if residents can shed their pounds. The city is reportedly paying people in gold if they can lose weight. And the fatter they are, the more gold they stand to gain.
The AP reports that Dubai, the famously flashy oil-rich city in the United Arab Emirates, is giving residents one gram of gold (the equivalent of $45 at current prices) per kilogram (a little over two pounds) of weight lost. Participants, who weighed in for the first time on July 19th, have a month to lose as much weight as they can.
Dubai’s weight problems have grown along with the local economy. According to the Pulitzer Center, the city’s overweight population has skyrocketed as more restaurants, fast food joints, and shopping mall food centers have opened over the past 20 years. Now over half of all residents in the city are overweight. And now the same oil wealth that caused Dubai to grow so fat is being used to try to lure citygoers back to lower weights.
There are two main problems we see with the initiative. First, while over half the population in Dubai is overweight, a Philips Healthcare study claims that under 25% of overweight individuals in the city admit that they have a problem. And second: Dubai residents are already so rich (the UAE has a GDP per capita of over $45,000 per year) that getting a couple hundred bucks for giving up the convenience of McDonald’s may not be an attractive enough incentive—even though the biggest losers have the opportunity to win over $5,000 in a random lottery.
As the LA Times points out, the UAE doesn’t spend much on public health. One-off initiatives like this one may not do much if there’s no larger infrastructure to keep weights down. And in any case, weight is not always the ultimate indicator of fitness.
Ahmad Bin Sulayem, executive chairman of Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, warns entrants about this conundrum in a Gulf News article:
"There are lots of ways to lose weight and also excuses to delay [getting fit]. A sprinter is different than a marathon runner, and everybody has their own techniques in becoming fit. If somebody wants to do body-building they can do so, but they have to be aware that they might gain weight," he added.