World Obesity Day: UAE annual bill for condition expected to hit $12bn

Report shows rising healthcare cost of treating lifestyle-related disease

Almost 7.5 million people in the UAE are expected to be overweight or obese by 2035 at current rates, a World Obesity Federation report says. PA
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RELATED: UAE's diabetes bill could soon top $3.4 billion

Almost 7.5 million people in the UAE are expected to be overweight or obese by 2035 at current rates of growth, with annual associated costs forecast to reach $12 billion a year, a report by the World Obesity Federation has found.

Figures released to mark World Obesity Day on March 4 offer a stark warning to the healthcare challenges ahead if urgent action is not taken.

National obesity management standards were first introduced in 2008 in a bid to manage climbing rates, alongside polio eradication and cervical cancer-prevention strategies.

The main barriers to obesity management include recognition of obesity as a disease and education of healthcare professionals, as well as affected individuals
Dr Sara Suliman, consultant endocrinologist

The anti-obesity drive included a tax on sugar, dedicated health and activity months, and better women-only fitness facilities.

Many health drives in the emirates have been hailed a success but the UAE is still grappling with increasing numbers of people who are overweight or obese.

A quarter of adults are now living with obesity in the UAE, with 22 per cent of people in Dubai, and Ajman and Fujairah recording the highest rates at 39 per cent.

The report found almost 40 per cent of children are now obese or overweight in the UAE and there were 7,622 deaths directly related to being overweight or obese in 2019.

Meanwhile, according to the federation’s annual World Obesity Atlas, the economic impact of obesity in the UAE is on track to reach almost 5 per cent of GDP by 2035.

“The cost of business as usual with obesity, with fragmented and siloed efforts here as in most countries, means the UAE is expected to see a continued rise in the numbers of people living with obesity and increases in the economic impact of disability and death associated with the disease,” said Johanna Ralston, chief executive at the World Obesity Federation.

“The UAE has made a start and, armed with this new data, it is time to take decisive steps on turning the tide on the obesity epidemic.

“This data is an excellent opportunity for policymakers to implement new strategies aimed at reducing obesity and its associated economic burdens.”

Worldwide epidemic

Global trends follow a similar pattern to those in the UAE, with 750 million children aged five to 19 expected to be either overweight or obese by 2035, with most living in middle-income countries.

A higher body mass (BMI) index is associated with a number of early indicators for health problems later in life. This included high blood pressure and hyperglycaemia – or high blood sugar – which can lead to diabetes and a greater risk of heart problems in adulthood.

The World Obesity Atlas also revealed countries with economies expanding at an accelerated rate had rapid rises in the numbers of overweight people.

Data showed high BMI was also linked to the mounting global environmental crisis, with greenhouse-gas emissions, urbanisation, plastic waste, a lack of physical activity and consumption of animal products all playing a role in creating unhealthy environments that contribute to obesity.

“Some countries in the Mena region have made significant strides to treat and manage obesity,” said Dr Sara Suliman, consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi.

“The UAE, for example, has put in place standards of care for obesity management since 2008.

“However, as a region with some of the highest rates of obesity, we have initiated a working group – soon to become a registered society – with the support of the World Obesity Federation to produce unified guidelines, supporting education and raising awareness of obesity and how best to tackle it.

“The main barriers to obesity management include recognition of obesity as a disease and education of healthcare professionals, as well as the affected individuals and their families, clear management guidelines and support from all sectors involved in the prevention and management of obesity.”

Wider access to diabetes medicine related to weight loss, such as Ozempic and Mounjaro, could yet play an important role in reducing the impact of obesity.

The drugs have a similar affect to bariatric surgery, which doctors also said can reduce prevalence of diabetes as patients make healthier long-term lifestyle choices that need to be maintained.

Surgical options

A recent study co-authored by Dr Ali Arminian, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s metabolic and bariatric institute, suggested surgery could bring about important hormonal changes that make diabetes easier to control.

“When we treat obesity effectively, associated conditions such as diabetes, as well as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, are likely to improve too,” said Dr Arminian.

“We wanted to compare the impact of weight-loss surgery on diabetes as compared to medications or lifestyle changes typically used in diabetes management.

“Our findings confirmed results of many smaller studies, demonstrating that bariatric surgery leads to superior diabetes control compared with medical and lifestyle interventions.

“Post-bariatric surgery, fewer diabetes medications were needed and more patients had diabetes remission than was the case of patients in the group using medication and lifestyle interventions.

“For suitable candidates who have diabetes and obesity – particularly those with a very high body mass index, who are less likely to respond to medication – surgery can be a great choice.”

Updated: March 04, 2024, 3:11 AM