Nearly a third of people have gained weight since the coronavirus outbreak began, a survey found.
University of Sharjah researchers said a lack of exercise and eating more meals were the main factors.
Its team polled almost 4,000 people in the Middle East and North Africa, including 1,012 UAE residents.
Of the UAE respondents, 31 per cent said they had put on weight since travel restrictions and home working was imposed. A further 20.9 per cent said they had lost weight, while 40 per cent maintained the same weight, with the remainder unsure.
The survey was carried out in April, when the UAE imposed various restrictions on leaving the home, including a strict permit system in Dubai. It has since been lifted and people of all ages are urged to exercise, while taking precautions.
“In a time like this, when the world is going through unusual changes directly affecting people’s lifestyles, it was necessary we conduct such research,” said Dr Leila Ismail, who led the study.
“It will help us contribute to developing strategies for protection and treatment and raising awareness to limit the impact of the virus on public health.”
Dr Ismail’s team found the number of UAE respondents who eat between three to four meals a day rose to 56.5 per cent, from 51.5 per cent prior to the outbreak.
The number who eat five or more meals each day rise from 2.1 per cent to 7 per cent.
Asked about exercise, 38.5 per cent said they had done none at all since the outbreak began. In addition, 72.2 per cent of UAE respondents did not meet the recommended water intake – eight cups per day.
Participants were also asked about stress and sleep.
Researchers found 37.7 per cent felt tense most of the time and 28.1 per cent experienced poor sleep.
Those taking part in the survey were also asked about spending habits.
More than 80 per cent said they had started making shopping lists, either for online shopping or to avoid lingering in supermarkets.
“This developed practice will positively affect purchases, restricting them to necessities and will also reduce the time people spend at grocery stores,” said Dr Ismail.
Professor Ayesha Al Dhaheri, vice dean of UAE University, which was also involved in the survey, said the results showed a need for greater public awareness about healthy eating habits – and crucially about exercise.
“It emphasises the importance of providing health, nutritional and psychological consultation during the crisis, through telemedicine techniques,” she said.
Further research into the effects of the outbreak on our lives, particularly sleep and stress, is needed, she said.
Respondents from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen also took part in the online survey.