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Could Dubai's gold-for-pounds weight loss program work?
The fabulously wealthy emirate has taken a novel approach to promoting public health
 
People in Dubai are seeing dollar signs when they hit the scales.
People in Dubai are seeing dollar signs when they hit the scales. Thinkstock

Some people turn to Weight Watchers to help them stick to their diets. But if you live in Dubai, gold may be a more appealing option.

The city of Dubai has launched the "Your Weight in Gold" program, offering a gram of gold for every kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) shed, with a 2 kilo minimum weight loss to qualify, according to Emirates 24/7. It averages out to about $45 per kilo with no ceiling on the payout. Best of all, people who lose the most weight are entered into a separate lottery to win a gold brick worth over $5,000.

The campaign may be just what a city known for its extreme wealth needs to combat its increasing obesity rates. In the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is one of the seven emirates, 30 percent of men and 43 percent of women are obese. One in every three children in neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi is obese, and the entire Persian Gulf region is struggling with a growing diabetes epidemic.

Home to the world's most expensive cupcake, Dubai is no stranger to combining opulence with dietary delights, but this time "the tiny emirate has outdone the world in flashy extravagance by tantalizing dieters," writes Charlene Gubash at NBC News.

The weight-loss program started this week and runs through Aug. 16 to specifically overlap with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Hussain Lootah, director general of the Dubai municipality, said it "is the most appropriate season to launch such initiatives as it reminds us about many health benefits of reducing weight and encourages us to take strong steps to change our lifestyles."

However, while gold for pounds may sound like a dieter's dream come true, there are potential downsides to the program. For one, since its GDP per capita is the 15th highest in the world at $50,000 per year, "the promised payoff may not be powerful enough to separate citizens from their Big Macs and pistachio-stuffed pastries," writes Carol J. Williams at the Los Angeles Times.

At the same time, paying people in gold to lose weight is somewhat ironic considering that the government allocates only 3.7 percent of its state budget to medical care and ranks 172nd in the world for public health spending, notes Williams.

Another flaw in the campaign is that a month-long weight-loss challenge suggests an emphasis on short-term results, which may not last. "Losing a bunch of weight that fast is always dubious," writes Meher Ahmad at Jezebel. Yet another is that Ramadan may not actually be a great time to try out that diet. Speaking from her own experiences of fasting from sunrise to sunset, Ahmad writes that "when you eat a million samosas (fried pastries with a spicy filling) and then don't eat for twelve hours, your body is all, 'we're in starvation mode, let's store this grease permanently.'"

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of Dubai's program, though, is that it does not tackle the underlying causes of the country's obesity epidemic. High temperatures (regularly over 100 degrees) that deter exercise coupled with the growing presence of Western fast food have had a toxic effect on weight and health. "Incentivising weight loss with gold seems like an unsustainable solution to a much bigger problem," writes Ahmad.

So, maybe there are certain problems that won't go away when you throw money, or even gold, at them.

 
Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

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