The Middle East has made successful strides in overall health status since the latter half of the 20th
Century. This region has seen a decline in communicable disease progression due to improvements
in technology, economic growth, expansion in public and private health systems, and an overall
reduction in poverty. These gains and the modernization the Arab region is experiencing has led
to a shift in the high priority public health challenges the region will face in the next century.
The change in behavioral factors that come with modernization will have at least as much an
impact on health outcomes going forward as those with long socio-cultural roots. The Middle East
has some of the highest consanguineous marriage rates in the world. Research among this
population indicates a potential association between this marriage practice and the development of
genetic disorders. However, results from The Global Burden of Disease Project highlight the
existence of non-communicable disease rates in higher income/urban areas as well as low income
populations in industrialized MENA countries. Non-communicable diseases are expected to
account for 50% of total annual deaths. Of these, obesity trends in this region are a major
contributor to the progression of diabetes as well as being a co-morbidity in itself1
. Urban land
expansion over fertile land has impacted, for example, Omani and Iranian capture fisheries and
aquaculture, which is sustained by transboundary waterways like the Euphrates, the Tigris, and the
Nile, the world’s largest river. The region also suffers from severe land constraints. Less than 5%
of land is arable in two-thirds of the countries of the MENA region, while many countries (e.g.,
Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen, Mauritania and Syria) have huge desert
pastures for livestock grazing2. This region is the most water-stressed in the world. Adjusting and
accounting for future loss in cropland, while understanding the rate of urbanization in Middle
Eastern countries will enhance public health action and reduce the potential of food insecurity for
vulnerable populations.
Key Words: Urbanization, Obesity, Health, Health Factors, Globalization, Mortality, Farming,
Climate Change
Key Drivers:
1. Obesity and Diabetes
2. Shifting Disease Prevalence from Communicable à Non-communicable
3. Consanguineous Marriage and Risk of Congenital Abnormalities
4. Health Impacts from Urbanization of Arable Land