In this week's Bloomberg Businessweek, Peter Savodnik sheds light on two very profitable and symbiotic American exports in the Middle East: Fast food and bariatric surgery. Savodnik's report, which comes with the sure-to-offend headline Obesity, the Other Gulf War Syndrome, is an invasion story, and like any good invasion story, it begins with a war—specifically the 1991 Gulf war that brought with it an influx of fast food companies and all the health problems that come on the side, like an order of super-sized fries.
According to Savodnik, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Burger King are apparently irresistible to Kuwaitis: "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," he writes. "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."
We know that BMI isn't the best indicator of health, but that 88 percent figure is still startling. We've also seen how fast foods have increased waistlines in many countries, like France as The New York Times' Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in 2005, and fast food is just one of the factors making China obese, The Atlantic Cities' Sarah Goodyear reports. Not to mention we've seen the imprint of American food left on countries and territories during wars (think SPAM in Korea and Hawaii).
But back to the business angle. Of course fast food companies are thriving on these appetites, but apparently, the other side to these Kuwaitis getting so fat is that they've triggered a boom in the stomach stapling industry. Savodnik explains:
It took several years after the influx of fast food for stomach stapling, another North American import, to come to Kuwait. For anyone in private practice, there is a lot of money to be made. Each operation at Royale Hayat Hospital, the gleaming five-star resort-slash-wellness center where Dr. Al Sanea is the chief executive officer, runs from $8,000 to $12,000. (For those willing to be operated on at a state-run hospital, the procedure is free, but patients have to buy the staples—they usually cost between $2,500 and $3,600—and there’s a two- to three-year wait.)
For the whole read on over to Bloomberg Businessweek.