Explaining the Middle Eastern Health Inequality Paradox

in collaboration with Zayed University 

LSE PI: Dr Joan Costa-Font
Co-PI: Dr Aristeidis Samitas
Duration: September 2018 – February 2021

Outside Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco. Alik Shahaf, Flickr.

Worldwide, obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975, with 39% of adults aged 18 years and above classified as overweight in 2016 and 13% as obese, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data. Today, the overweight population exceeds the underweight population worldwide. This trend is reflected in the MENA region, with the growing exposure of Middle Eastern countries to western habits and lifestyles thought to have had an impact on health indicators, including obesity and overweight.

In the MENA region, the data shows that women are more severely affected by the global obesity epidemic than men, with 26% of women in the region being classified as obese, compared with 15.7% of men, according to the WHO. In some countries including Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, obesity rates among women are as high as 40%, while male obesity rates remain well below 30%. Even in poorer and less politically stable countries of the region like Yemen and Iraq, female obesity significantly surpasses male obesity. As a consequence, women in the MENA region are at risk of suffering from obesity-related diseases such as high cholesterol, type II diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

This project attempts to understand and explain the existence of this “Middle Eastern Health Inequality Paradox”. In particular, it aims to identify any gaps that might exist across countries and investigate whether/ how such gaps depend on a number of determinants including but not restricted to; social norms, socioeconomic factors, lifestyle and environmental characteristics, as well as food prices.

This project forms part of the Academic Collaboration with Arab Universities Programme, funded by the Emirates Foundation.

Project Outputs

Research Team


Joan Costa-Font | Principal Investigator 

Joan is an Associate Professor (Reader) at the LSE's European Institute and the Department of Health Policy. He is also a CESifo (Munich) and IZA (Bonn) Research Fellow.


Aristeidis Samitas | Co-Principal Investigator

Aristeidis is an Associate Professor of Finance in the College of Business and currently the Finance Department Chair in the Abu Dhabi campus at Zayed University.


Berkay Ozcan | Researcher 

Berkay is an Associate Professor of Social Policy at LSE and currently the Program Director of the undergraduate degree BSc in Social Policy and Economics.


Mario Gyori | Research Assistant

Mario is a PhD student at the LSE’s Department of Health Policy, working on the Economics of nutrition, with a particular focus on overweight and obesity in low and middle income countries.


Nilesh Raut | Research Assistant

Nilesh Raut is a Doctoral Student of Health Policy and Health Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science.