WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Less than half of adults in most Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries -- except for Oman -- report getting frequent exercise. Respondents in Saudi Arabia are the least likely in the region to say they exercise for at least 30 minutes, three or more days per week, with fewer than one in four reporting that they exercise this much.
These findings, based on Gallup surveys in 2011, underscore the relatively poor exercise habits that are contributing to the region's growing problems with diabetes and obesity. Several of the countries in the region are among the 10 nations globally with the highest diabetes rates. Further, the data suggest women in these countries may be disproportionately at risk. Women across all GCC countries are less likely than men to exercise frequently, depressing the national averages. Like their male counterparts, females in Saudi Arabia are the least likely in the region to report exercising at least three days per week, as 16% report doing so.
Young people in the 15 to 29 age group are more likely than older people to say they exercise at least three days per week, which may be a positive sign for decreasing future disease burden in the region. In almost all GCC countries, except Saudi Arabia, nearly 50% of the 15- to 29-year-olds surveyed exercise frequently. A much lower 33% of young people in Saudi Arabia say they exercise this much.
Eating Habits Better Than Exercise Habits in GCC
Except in Saudi Arabia, the eating habits of adults in the GCC countries are better than their exercising habits. While the majority of the GCC adults report eating a lot of fruits and vegetables at least four days a week, 33% of respondents in Saudi Arabia do so. In most GCC countries, except for Bahrain and Qatar, women and highly educated adults are significantly more likely to report healthier eating habits than men and less-educated adults.
Young people in the region may be more likely than older people to exercise, but their diets are not necessarily better. They are sometimes the same or worse. Younger populations in Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman are less likely to consume a lot of fruits and vegetables than their older counterparts, and in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, young and older people are equally likely to report this. Younger respondents in Kuwait, however, are slightly more likely than their older counterparts to say they eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
Judging by their reported health habits, the prognosis across the region looks somewhat poor. Saudis' life expectancy of 72 years, for example, is the GCC's lowest. Further, it is lower than in some far less economically developed countries and areas, such as the Palestinian Territories and Syria. This is unlikely to improve, given that the majority of Saudi respondents do not exercise at all, and that they are the least likely in the region to consume a lot of fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis. Poor exercise habits among women in Saudi Arabia, and those of other women in the region, have serious ramifications on their health. According to the World Health Organization, the prevalence of obesity among Saudi women is the second highest in the GCC, after that of Kuwaiti women, at 44%. Furthermore, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death among Saudi women.
Given the country's hot and harsh climate, the Saudi government may want to invest in building more affordable indoor gyms. This policy is even more important for women, who cannot easily exercise in the open. The Saudi ministry of education may also wish to consider permitting all-girls public schools to offer sports classes to instill good health habits in female residents starting at a young age.
For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact SocialandEconomicAnalysis@gallup.com or call 202.715.3030.
Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with 1,000 to 1,022 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in September and October 2011. For results based on the total sample of adults, which included Arabs and Arab expatriates, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from ±3.4 percentage points to ±3.9 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.