Doctors urge UAE companies to encourage lunch breaks

Bosses should allow their workers to have a one-hour lunch break, as it will increase productivity and improve the health of employees.

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DUBAI // Employers are being urged to ensure that their workers are given – and take – an hour off for lunch every day to improve their health and fitness.

Working through lunch is a common in the UAE’s competitive workplaces, with staff afraid that taking a break makes them look less productive than co-workers, doctors say.

“People want to give 100 per cent,” said Dr Shefali Verma, of the Institute for Biophysical Medicine at Dubai Healthcare City.

“They worry about the market and that jobs come and go, so they forget about themselves.”

This leads to unhealthy habits of sitting down all day and eating convenience food.

“They come in early, they work through lunch, and they eat rubbish because it’s fast and convenient,” said Dr Verma.

“I think this is what kills us in a way, when we forget what we put in our mouths.”

Employers perpetuate these bad habits by not enforcing lunch breaks, said Dr Verma.

“They don’t encourage it. And when one doesn’t take it, the other thinks, ‘Are they working harder?’ or ‘Will I look like I am not doing enough because I am taking too much time for myself?’

“It should be encouraged. You must take your lunch break.”

The general practitioner, who has a master’s degree in sports medicine, said workers should use a midday break to exercise or eat a nutritious meal, instead of being a “weekend warrior” and trying to fit in an active and healthy lifestyle only on days off.

“It is far more beneficial to be more consistent,” said Dr Verma. “This is what gets results when it becomes part of your routine. You are less likely to let it go.”

Those who do not will suffer in the long run, she said.

People in their 20s and 30s do not look ahead and realise the choices they make during these years will affect the state of their health in their 40s, Dr Verma said.

“As old fashioned as it may seem, it is that work-life balance that is so important.”

Dr Atul Chawla, a specialist in gastroenterology at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, agreed that employers should encourage an office-based workforce to take regular breaks.

“If they are having a one-hour break and take some exercise during that time, it rejuvenates the body,” said Dr Chawla.

“Sitting for long hours affects your concentration and you may become less alert.

“I would definitely encourage this one-hour break. I strongly recommend it. It refuels body and mind.”

A sitting-down culture only heightens the risk of lifestyle disorders such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, he said.

“Many just eat something such as a snack or a sandwich in front of the laptop to save time, and finish the pressing deadlines as soon as possible,” said Dr Mirey Karavetian, a clinical dietician in Dubai and an assistant professor at Zayed University.

But this can lead to the dangerous habit of a person saving their biggest meal until late at night – when it should be the smallest of the day.

“Many reach home exhausted, starved, and do ‘mindless’ eating – a type of eating where you eat quantities far more than what you would have if you were not as stressed and tired,” she said.

“It is a leading cause of weight gain and serious chronic health conditions.”