The city of Dubai is offering gold as an incentive for a weight loss initiative it will launch this week.
The "Your Weight in Gold" program, which begins Friday registering and weighing participants in different parts of Dubai, will last about a month. The final weigh-in will take place Aug. 16, after the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
To qualify, contestants must lose a minimum of two kilograms (4.4 pounds) during the month, and they will receive one gram of gold for each kilogram of weight lost. Based on market prices Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, two grams of gold would be worth about $82.
The three people who lose the most weight will be entered into a drawing for a gold coin worth more than $5,400.
According to the statement by the Dubai Municipality, those taking part in the contest can register on any day during the month but must be overweight. Contestants are not allowed to use unhealthy methods to lose weight.
"Ramadan is the most appropriate season to launch such initiatives, as it reminds us about many health benefits of reducing weight and encourages us to take strong steps to change our bad lifestyles," said Hussain Nasser Lootah, the director general of the Dubai Municipality.
Ramadan requires fasting from sunrise to sunset, but many people overeat when they break their fast.
Dubai is famous for its big shopping malls, fast food chains and soaring summer heat that makes it difficult for people to exercise outdoors. Two years ago, the municipality launched the "Yallah Walk" initiative, which created walking tracks in different parts of the city to encourage a healthier lifestyle.
Obesity is a big problem in the Arab Gulf countries. In the United Arab Emirates in particular, 33.7 percent of adults are obese, according to 2008 data used in a recent United Nations report. Kuwait has the highest percentage in the region, at 42.8 percent, with Saudi Arabia following at 35.2 percent. Nearby Qatar has 33.1 percent.
Childhood obesity is also concerning in the United Arab Emirates. A 2005 study showed that the prevalence of obesity among youth is two to three times higher than the international standard.
Against this backdrop, contests such as the one in Dubai may be a golden opportunity for change.