Flashy Dubai Takes on Obesity

Emirates Towers

Will people do anything for money? Even do whatever is necessary to lose weight? The idea of paying the obese to slim down is a total reversal of the dominant paradigm, where it is the obese who must pay for gym memberships, pre-portioned meals, exercise equipment, footstep counters, and myriad other supplies and equipment. What if, instead of removing money from their bank accounts, shedding fat would put dollars in the bank?

The American public has seen that this works in some cases — like TV shows where the effort is a combination of competition, entertainment, and gambling. It takes a certain type of person to engage in such a high degree of self-exposure, and to do it with only a fractional chance of winning the big prize. Everybody knows about The Biggest Loser and similar shows. The new wrinkle is high-level international competitive weight loss.

Perhaps inspired by neighboring Abu Dhabi’s adoption of mixed martial arts, the emirate of Dubai was the site of a competition called Your Weight in Gold. That wasn’t the literal prize, of course; success was recognized proportionately — the more weight lost, the bigger the reward in grams of gold per kilo of lost fat. About 10,000 contestants from various countries signed up, and six weeks later, more than 3,000 came away with some tangible prize to show for it. Martin Croucher reports on the contest for The National:

Omar Ahmed Al Marri, a public-relations executive from the municipality, said the gold was a key motivator in getting people to participate.

‘Nobody tries to be healthy,’ he said. ‘So we thought about how we could make them think about it. We found that you have to give them a gift, to motivate them. Most of the people, they first of all thought about the gold. And then afterwards, they thought about what they could do for their body.’

A British participant also cited the deadline and his wife’s encouragement as motivating factors, and doubtless every individual involved in the competition could name one or more such mental spurs. Yet the fact still remains that someone else might look at both deadline and enthusiastic relative, and shrug indifferently. Even gold is an external motivation, and in many cases it could not have counted for much against the investment necessary to go to Dubai and live for a month and a half in such an expensive place.

A publicity stunt on a lavish scale might not have much to teach us everyday people, after all. But you know would be really interesting? For the authorities who arranged and financed the “Your Weight in Gold” contest to do a follow-up study, five years down the road, and report back to us on how many of those 3,000+ winners have actually maintained their new weight. That would be something worth hearing about.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Dubai’s ‘Your Weight in Gold’ campaign hands out 16.9kg in gold,” TheNational.ae, 11/07/13
Image by Robert Young


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