I lived in Dubai for three years. The line at each of Dubai’s four Shake Shack outlets was always a complete nightmare. The drive-thru line at McDonald’s was just as horrendous—you were better off parking your car and waiting inside or calling up McDelivery (yes, it exists there).

But snaking lines at fast food restaurants and the crowded food courts at Dubai’s malls are not enough to keep the residents away from their grease and carbs. Not even drastically growing obesity rates and a diabetes epidemic in the Persian Gulf region can deter them in their quest for fast food burgers and fries.

Many of the diners are unaware how prevalent diabetes is in the country—a disease caused predominantly by unhealthy eating habits and lifestyles that lack exercise.

“Fast food is quick, you’re hungry and you want instant gratification.”

Mita Ray, a Type 2 diabetic who has lived in Dubai for 25 years, tells the Wall Street Journal that the worsening diabetes epidemic is caused by the “ostrich syndrome,” where residents stick their heads in the sand in denial that a lifestyle change is crucial.

“Fast food is quick, you’re hungry and you want instant gratification,” says Ray, noting that while her environment isn’t to blame for her health, there are idiosyncrasies in the Gulf region that bring challenges to healthy lifestyles.

In a region where much time is spent in shopping malls due to sweltering desert temperatures, it’s difficult to blame residents for regularly dining at fast food restaurants—it’s cheap and it’s everywhere (a single mall can have three to four different food courts). A Big Mac in the U.A.E costs $3.27, while the same burger costs $4.56 in the U.S, according to the Economists’s Big Mac index. The region’s fast food revenue increased by 15% to $2.64 billion last year, which comes to 88 Big Macs per person each year.

People in the Gulf region are not used to walking, which only adds to the obesity issue. Temperatures exceed 100 degrees for a large chunk of the year, so residents go from their homes, to their cars, to the office/school/mall, to their cars, and back home. Under these circumstances, it’s no wonder that roughly 20 percent of the U.A.E’s population has diabetes.

[via Wall Street Journal]