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Obesity, the Other Gulf War Syndrome

Kuwait’s obesity epidemic—a result of the influx of U.S. fast food—has made the country a global capital of stomach stapling
Obesity, the Other Gulf War Syndrome
Illustration by Lydia Wong

Dr. Osamah Al Sanea, a leading Kuwaiti bariatric surgeon, is describing a stomach he recently stapled. “We don’t take anything out,” he says. “We make the stomach smaller. We restrict the fuel.” Then he opens his laptop and clicks on a link that says “surgery,” and the computer screen fills with video of the darkened interior of a morbidly obese woman. A tiny flashlight illuminates the pinkish stomach and thick folds of gray-yellow fat.

As he watches the video of the procedure, which cordons off nearly 90 percent of the patient’s stomach capacity, Al Sanea says, “One out of three Kuwaiti adults is obese. Ten percent is morbidly obese.” Actually, the numbers are worse: Only 12 percent of Kuwaitis have a body-mass index (BMI) below 25. (The ideal range is 18.5 to 25.) At least 88 percent of Kuwaitis, in other words, are considered overweight. According to a study published in June by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, using data from the World Health Organization, Kuwait is the second-most obese nation in the world, behind the U.S.