Dubai health care symposium aims to tackle obesity epidemic in UAE

The conference will bring together experts from the UAE and the US to share research and information in the fight against obesity

The UAE ranks third in the Middle East of the countries with the greatest prevalence of obesity with 37 per cent of residents classed as obese. Pawan Singh / The National
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For the first time in the UAE, every doctor, clinic, hospital, policy and decision maker will gather under one roof to tackle one of biggest heathcare problems facing the country and the world — obesity.

Under the Ministry of Health and Prevention, the first USA Healthcare Symposium and Showcase on Nutrition, Obesity and Diabetes will be held on Monday and Tuesday at the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Dubai (MBRU). At least 300 medical professionals are expected to attend.

Obesity has been at the forefront of health concerns in the UAE for the past few years with the Government strengthening efforts to find effective solutions to tackle the epidemic.

The UAE ranks third in the Middle East of the countries with the greatest prevalence of obesity, with 37 per cent of residents classed as obese.

A 2012 study published by BMC Public Health Journal placed the UAE as the fifth most obese country in the world.

In 2015, figures from the International Diabetes Federation indicated that almost one in five people (19.2 per cent) in the UAE between the ages of 20 and 79 have type 2 diabetes.

There were over a million people living with diabetes in the UAE the same year, placing the country in 13th place worldwide for age-adjusted comparative prevalence.


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Rapid economic growth, sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets characteristic to the UAE are all risk factors that are expected to contribute to the estimated doubling of people with diabetes to 2.2 million by 2040.

“The rise of obesity and diabetes in both of our nations is a shared concern, particularly the increasing rates of diabetes among our youth,” said the US Ambassador to the UAE, Barbara Leaf, ahead of the conference.

The two-day symposium is being held during Discover America month and will gather experts from the UAE and the US to share their latest research and successes in tackling obesity as well as promoting healthy lifestyles and proper nutrition.

While there have been many conferences held in the UAE previously, never before have all the stakeholders gathered together in one room, said Dareen Zoughbi, founder and chief executive of Nadereen Consultancy.

“This is the first US health care symposium on nutrition obesity and diabetes and one of the signature events of discover America and falls within Discover America month. Obesity and diabetes is a growing epidemic and it impacts right now children as young as four and five,” she said.

Mrs Zoughbi acknowledged the tremendous efforts to fight diabetes but said a key issue that is still lacking is “alignment”.

“One thing we found out when we are doing our research is that there is a lot going on in the UAE but a lot of it is not publicly known; a lot of data is not being publicly shared between organisations whether it is on a policy level or a strategy level,” she said.

“We are bringing everyone together in a room for two days to say, right, what have we done on a public health point? — this is a public health issue. What have we done to address it? What are the policies that we have done to deal with this growing epidemic? What are the different strategies? And how are we aligning with the UAE’s 2021 vision?” she said.

The conference will be a platform for increased collaboration and data sharing.

“We need to raise awareness on all the different levels and making sure it’s all aligned so that what we are doing in one place is not being repeated elsewhere and that we are learning from it,” said Mrs Zoughbi.

Success, she said, will be when the number of child obesity cases decrease. “This will only happen when schools, hospital, parents and all the stakeholders all work together.”

“We can’t implement a solution for schools alone for example within a community that hasn’t found a solution to have more parks. I can’t hold the families and parents accountable if the food offered at school canteens is not healthy. What we are finding is that there is a lot going on but it’s each organisation doing it so perfectly well on its own.”

Entry to the conference is free of charge. “This isn’t a symposium with a commercial agenda, it’s a symposium where we are saying, let's truly bring the best together because at the end of the day, what we all want is better patient outcome — that’s the goal we all want to reach,” she said.

For registration, visit