How not to become a burden on the health care system

Emiratis, like everybody else, need to take charge of their own well-being by following a healthy diet and fitness regime.

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A recent editorial in The National highlighted the need for both the public and private sectors to invest in the development of everyday fitness facilities. Perhaps it was the way I was reading it, or my own personal experience, but I felt the underlying message was the need for all of us to take responsibility for our own health and well-being.

The public and private industries in our country can invest all they want into every form of facility, be they for health care or fitness, but if we as a people do not aspire to live better lives then that investment would be in vain.

What must happen then, is a shift in how we as a people view health care and fitness.

As Emiratis we spend a great deal of time and effort promoting our culture, we even have several authorities dedicated to that very purpose.

Our culture is also shaped by how we talk, how we act, how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves. Unfortunately this last point does not reflect too well for us.

The UAE has high rates of diabetes and obesity. Couple that with a culture that does not promote the benefits of regular exercise and, at the same time, welcomes almost every burger chain from the four corners of the world to set up shop, and the journey to healthier living seems impossible.

My experience as a student in the US has highlighted what healthy living stands for: it is people walking to work or school with two bags, one for work, and the other with their gym gear; it is driving past playing fields every day, not just during summer, and seeing sports camps for kids; it is seeing people who give everyday exercise the same level of importance as going to work, eating or socialising.

I felt the pressure to exercise when I first moved to the US and it soon became a habit. I felt incomplete if I hadn't exercised every day. It is these kind of habits that I hope to maintain when I come back home.

With such high rates of diabetes and obesity in the UAE, there should be queues at gyms and salad bars as long as the lines you see at certain fast-food outlets.

It is important to point out that certain factors do put obstacles in the way of living a healthy lifestyle here: we can blame the heat, the humidity or lack of facilities, but we are also the only ones who will be held accountable for our lifestyle and the effect that it has on our health. We bear absolute responsibility for our own bodies.

I am certain we have more fast food outlets in our shopping centres and malls than we have places to buy vegetables. Perhaps a cap could be placed on the growth of fast food chains and outlets, and financial incentives offered to institutions that promote healthy, nutritional eating.

I know this may sound draconian but extreme times call for extreme measures, and if we are all healthier for it, why not?

With regards to the healthcare sector in the UAE, my view is that we are also too focused on treatment rather than prevention.

We have invested heavily in importing the finest health care institutions to this country but may not have given enough focus to providing sports and recreational facilities.

As a country, we cannot continue to focus only on the provision of top-quality health care, we must also work harder to prevent ourselves becoming a burden on those institutions.

Switching to a healthier, more active lifestyle and better eating habits will help us develop  the best healthcare system in the world - one that doesn't rely solely on treating patients.

Khalid Al Ameri is a social affairs commentator studying for his MBA at Stanford University in California