Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi File picture: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

Johannesburg – Egyptian President Abdel-Fateh El Sisi, who normally targets political opponents and critics, has aimed his latest criticism at overweight citizens whom he has urged to lose weight during this festive season.

In televised comments earlier this month, the general-turned-president railed about the number of overweight people he sees and told Egyptians that they must take better care of themselves, Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday.

After suggesting that physical education should be compulsory at schools and universities, he went on to suggest that presenters and guests who are overweight should be banned from appearing on TV.

But his critics slammed the president’s fat-shaming and elitist approach to a problem, which they say has its roots in poverty, and for failing to come up with concrete plans to combat obesity which is a big problem in the North African country.

"He needs to make healthy food available at low prices, set up venues where people can exercise and allow emergency obesity operations to be performed under the cover of the state's medical care system," said Mohamed Zaree a human rights lawyer.

Junk food is one of the problems exacerbating Egypt’s obesity endemic with the price of fruit and vegetables rocketing following economic reforms introduced by Sisi. Simultaneously junk food is widely available and cheap.

A 2017 global study by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that one in three Egyptians suffers from obesity, the world's highest rate.

The study also found 35 percent of adults - some 19 million people in the country of 100 million - are obese, again the world's highest rate, as well as 10.2 percent of Egyptian children, or around 3.6 million.

African News Agency/ANA