FILE - In this June 26, 2012 file photo, two women converse in New York. New government figures released Friday, Oct. 13, 2017 showed small increases that were not considered statistically significant but were seen by some as a cause for concern. The adult obesity rate rose from to about 40 percent, from just shy of 38 percent. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
The UAE is more inactive than the global average. AP

The war on obesity may, ironically, promote unhealthy habits

Anorexia nervosa was rare before the 1960s. Bulimia and binge eating disorders didn’t even exist, at least not as diagnosable entities anyway. By the 1970s, however, many developed nations began experiencing a sharp rise in the incidence of these eating disorders. Within approximately the same timeframe, there was also a sharp rise in the rate of obesity. A coincidence? Of course not.

Genetics plays a role. However, the rapidity with which these problems arose points, overwhelmingly, to changes in environment and behaviour (in other words, lifestyle) as the key causal factors. One obvious and oft-cited environmental factor is the rise of consumer culture, fuelled as it is by relentless and aggressive advertising. For example, the frequent use of unrealistically thin models to promote products, including chocolate bars, sends mixed messages. The explicit message is: “consume”, while the conflicting implicit message is: “starve”.  It is easy to see how such contradictory communication can be mapped to anorexia (starve), obesity (consume) and bulimia (consume and starve).

Given the epidemiological similarities and shared psycho-social factors associated with eating disorders and obesity, one might expect greater conceptual integration. However, to date, these overlapping eating and weight-related behavioural problems are still viewed and treated very separately. Typically, those interested in the body (physicians) tackle obesity, while those fascinated by the mind (psychiatrists/psychologist) focus on eating disorders. This, of course, is an oversimplification, but not an excessive one.


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This separation of mind and body is even more absurd when we consider the degree to which obesity and eating disorders overlap and co-occur. For example, binge eating disorder (BED) is known to go undiagnosed in about 30 per cent of obese people attending weight loss clinics. Similarly, obese and overweight individuals are at a much higher risk of engaging in bulimic-style weight control strategies, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse and other compulsive compensatory forms of behaviour.

This failure to integrate obesity and eating disorders means that we miss valuable opportunities for health promotion, and we may indeed also be creating future problems for ourselves. For example, a study undertaken in Al Ain, published in the Bahrain Medical Bulletin, reported a 48 per cent obesity rate for Emirati women between the age of 30 and 39. The article goes on, and rightly so, to make recommendations about increasing obesity prevention activities. However, the same study also reports a rate of 28 per cent underweight among the same population. In relative international terms, this is an extremely high rate. However, the article makes nothing of it. It is almost as if we have forgotten that being underweight is a health problem, too. Apart from being one of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, emaciation is associated with a whole host of physical health complications, including endocrinological complaints (infertility), haematological problems (anaemia, leukopenia) and skeletomuscular conditions (osteoporosis).


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Another problem arising from our failure to view obesity and eating disorders as an integrated spectrum of food and weight loss problems is the conflicting messages people receive as part of disjointed preventative initiatives. For example, the overly zealous anti-obesity campaign might unintentionally promote excessive weight and shape concern, also providing the individual with a rationale for unhealthy weight loss practices, for example, pseudo-veganism. Who could insist on their child finishing a meal when the child (secretly an aspirant cat-walk model) is claiming diabetes-prevention as the rationale for her ever-decreasing portion sizes and her born-again veganism? An integrated approach to food and weight-loss problems would be better able to address these issues, preventing the iatrogenic effects associated with having separate programmes of prevention.

Earlier this month, Dubai hosted the first USA Healthcare Symposium and Showcase on Nutrition, Obesity and Diabetes, an event designed to strengthen connections between US and UAE experts focused on new approaches to nutrition, obesity and diabetes. International cooperation and interdisciplinary dialogue are always commendable. However, I hope the second symposium will integrate eating disorders and place equal emphasis on the implications of over and undernutrition.


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Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

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Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”


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Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
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Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
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Key changes

Commission caps

For life insurance products with a savings component, Peter Hodgins of Clyde & Co said different caps apply to the saving and protection elements:

• For the saving component, a cap of 4.5 per cent of the annualised premium per year (which may not exceed 90 per cent of the annualised premium over the policy term). 

• On the protection component, there is a cap  of 10 per cent of the annualised premium per year (which may not exceed 160 per cent of the annualised premium over the policy term).

• Indemnity commission, the amount of commission that can be advanced to a product salesperson, can be 50 per cent of the annualised premium for the first year or 50 per cent of the total commissions on the policy calculated. 

• The remaining commission after deduction of the indemnity commission is paid equally over the premium payment term.

• For pure protection products, which only offer a life insurance component, the maximum commission will be 10 per cent of the annualised premium multiplied by the length of the policy in years.


Customers must now be provided with a full illustration of the product they are buying to ensure they understand the potential returns on savings products as well as the effects of any charges. There is also a “free-look” period of 30 days, where insurers must provide a full refund if the buyer wishes to cancel the policy.

“The illustration should provide for at least two scenarios to illustrate the performance of the product,” said Mr Hodgins. “All illustrations are required to be signed by the customer.”

Another illustration must outline surrender charges to ensure they understand the costs of exiting a fixed-term product early.

Illustrations must also be kept updatedand insurers must provide information on the top five investment funds available annually, including at least five years' performance data.

“This may be segregated based on the risk appetite of the customer (in which case, the top five funds for each segment must be provided),” said Mr Hodgins.

Product providers must also disclose the ratio of protection benefit to savings benefits. If a protection benefit ratio is less than 10 per cent "the product must carry a warning stating that it has limited or no protection benefit" Mr Hodgins added.


Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

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