Fitness - Day-off for Qataris to take part in national sport day to keep obesity at bay

DOHA (AFP) - More than a million Qataris were given a day off from work on Tuesday to take part in a nationwide day of sport amid growing concern at obesity levels in the super-rich Gulf state.

Although the annual Qatar National Sport Day is meant to be a fun event with beach volleyball, jogging, fitness boot camps and even a screening of the boxing movie Rocky, it contains a serious message.

Qatar, for all its recent association with sport, has a weight problem.

The first results from an ongoing two-year study by the Qatar Biobank, a medical research facility, published at the beginning of this year found that 73 per cent of Qataris were classified as overweight or obese.

The same research - covering 1,200 Qatari nationals and long-term expatriates - discovered that 76 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

And only two in 10 Qataris do any kind of exercise each week.

National Sport Day locations include "diet shops" and there are cash prizes for Qataris who have lost the most weight throughout the year.

It is the fourth consecutive year Qatar has held the event, which gives the working population of more than 1.2 million people a day off - traditionally on the second Tuesday in February.