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DOHA: Alarming obesity rates and their continued rise in the Gulf Cooperation Council have propelled a group of journalism students to take on the issue in a multimedia website aimed at raising awareness and preventing the epidemic’s further spread.
Launched on February 16, www.QatarSweetEpidemic.org unravels the crisis of diabetes and obesity in Qatar, and is run by students in the Northwestern University in Qatar journalism programme.
Seventy-one percent of Qatar’s resident population, which includes both expats and Qataris, are overweight and 32 percent are obese or morbidly obese, according to the National Health Strategy 2011-2016. That rate is expected to continue rising.
With a mix of video documentaries, investigative articles, audio podcasts and visual stories, www.QatarSweetEpidemic.org confronts visitors with the startling figures on obesity and diabetes in Qatar, and invites them to examine the societal factors that may be contributing to the rise of these two deadly medical conditions across the Gulf.
Dean Everette E Dennis, commented that “quality journalism and communications are at the core of informed discussion on important issues such as public health. By applying critical thinking and journalistic skills they have developed at NU-Q, these students have given us an example of how the work they do is already making an impact by encouraging constructive dialogue in Qatar.”
Experts at the Supreme Council of Health (SCH), the Qatar Diabetes Association and Hamad Medical Corporation have contributed to the site through interviews with the NU-Q students. In a narrated photo presentation, dieticians from Al Ahli Hospital discuss why the obesity rate is rising among Qatari children and what can be done to combat it.
A report by students Salima Al Ismaili, Ismaeel Naar and Benazir Al Munir Karim, explains why Qatari women are at a higher risk of developing diabetes and obesity than men because of cultural traditions and restrictive gender roles. The website and its multimedia content were created by students in the Northwestern journalism course, Advanced Online Storytelling.
“I chose the topic of diabetes and obesity in Qatar so my students could raise awareness about the country’s health crisis and, through their reporting, possibly save lives,” says Christina Paschyn, the course instructor.
Advanced Online Storytelling is a capstone course that journalism students take during their junior year. The course prepares students for their junior-year public relations or journalism residencies, during which they spend 10 weeks working at a professional news or communication organisation. Last week, students travelled to Washington DC, London and other cities for their residencies at The Huffington Post, Vogue and communications firm Brown Lloyd James, among others.
“I believe my students have emerged from this experience much more confident of their reporting skills and ready to impress their residency employers,” Paschyn says. “But more importantly, they have created a reporting product that will help to educate the Qatari public on this important issue.”