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Religion, weather and age: The Middle East and its calcium problem

By Ankush Chibber , 10-Mar-2014
Last updated on 11-Mar-2014 at 11:21 GMT

Religion, weather and age: The Middle East and its calcium problem

A rapidly aging population, a hot climate and clothing restrictions owing to Islam are making the Middle East the right kind of market for calcium-enriched mineral water, according to one German-based company.

Steinsieker is a calcium mineral water product that is made and bottled by Brohler Mineral- und Heilbrunnen GmbH/Brunnenbetrieb Steinsiek, and exported worldwide by A.R.Engel GmbH.

Dr. Ralph R. Engel, managing director at A.R. Engel GmBh, told FoodNavigator that the Middle East is a ripe market for this calcium mineral water given the high incidence of osteoporosis in the region.

According to Engel, in Germany, Steinsieker is recommended by doctors as part of the treatment for osteoporosis and counts the healthcare sector in the country and parts of Europe as its main markets.

“Calcium is an essential mineral that is recommended for intake by doctors in food or drink and not by tablets. Steinsieker has 620 mg of natural calcium per bottle. It is also slightly carbonated, which gives it a refreshing taste,” he said.

Steinsieker has been available in the Middle East since last year, where Engel says there is a massive problem with osteoporosis.

“It is one of the top 10 diseases worldwide and particularly wide-spread in the Middle East,” said Engel.

“In Kuwait, for example, 40% of the population above 50 has osteoporosis,” said Engel, pointing out that even though it’s widespread, osteoporosis is a silent disease because most people don’t report it till there is bone loss or fracture.

"Calcium content in the bones increases naturally till age 13. After that, for bone stability and strength, you need vitamin D and calcium from the outside. You get vitamin D from the sun, but most women in the Middle East are veiled, while the men are in offices or cars. This makes the disease so dangerous and widespread," he said.

Data from the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) backs Engel up. The foundation considers osteoporosis a “neglected” disease in the Middle East.

According to its research, in Egypt alone, more than 80% of women have osteoporosis or osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis), while in Turkey, nearly 65% of men and women 65 years old or older have osteoporosis.

The IOF also pointed out that one of the greatest predictors of osteoporosis and fractures is age, and the population in Middle Eastern countries is getting older.

By 2020, up to nearly 25% of the population in some countries will be over 50 years old, which will grow to up to 40% by 2050. Countries with the highest rate of hip fractures include the UAE, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

“We now hope to target the healthcare sector [pharmacies and hospitals] in the Middle East. We are working with hospitals here as people need to be educated about calcium mineral water and its benefits,” said Engel, revealing that the firm is already working with osteoporosis societies in Jordan and the UAE for this.

“And the best education comes from the doctor’s recommendation,” he added.

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