Why is Saudi Arabia designating $133 million to cover weight loss surgeries?

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In a step to fight obesity in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Health Insurance Council announced the addition of new benefits to citizens’ standard insurance policy, which will include weight loss surgeries like gastric bypass.

The budget for these new additions is 500 million SAR ($133 million) per person and will be implemented starting July 1. Those eligible for the weight loss surgeries should be at least 45 kilograms heavier than what their normal body mass index should be.

The council added that for weight loss surgeries specifically, they will cover 20,000 SAR per person.

Saudi Arabia is considered one of the top countries with high obesity rates. Around 70 percent of the population are considered obese according to the Saudi Food and Nutrition Association.

According to the Saudi Health Ministry, 40 percent of Saudi men are obese, while 62 percent of women suffer from the condition. The impact of these high rates is shown in the number of deaths from obesity, where over 20,000 deaths are caused by it annually.

The Saudi government already spends 500 million SAR annually to treat obesity. Although insurance companies will have to bear a large cost to carry out the new insurance policy decision, they will save on having to cover other treatments that accompany obesity like diabetes, stress and many other diseases.

About 80% of obese people get treated for diabetes, while 70% suffer from high blood pressure in addition to joint problems and trouble breathing.

In Saudi Arabia alone, over 20,000 weight loss surgeries take place every year, with over 24 surgeries happening every week in the King Khalid University Hospital in Riyadh alone.

Weight loss surgery prices vary around Saudi Arabia. In private hospitals in Jeddah, they range between 30,000-35,000 SAR, while in famous private clinics, these surgeries can reach 65,000 SAR.

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