Half of UAE residents gained weight during coronavirus pandemic, study suggests

Average increase was 8kg, according to the YouGov survey

Bad eating habits increase the risk of Covid-19 infection and its complications, experts say. Alamy
Bad eating habits increase the risk of Covid-19 infection and its complications, experts say. Alamy

A rise in stress eating and snacking meant half of UAE residents piled on the pounds during the coronavirus pandemic, a YouGov study said.

Researchers questioned 4,000 people in Spain, France, Turkey and the UAE about the impact of the pandemic on their lifestyle, eating habits and weight loss since last spring.

A thousand of the respondents were in the UAE.

Results showed that 53 per cent of Turks surveyed gained weight, compared to 51 per cent in the UAE, 48 per cent in Spain, and 41 per cent in France.

Knowing that already the UAE is a country which has a high rate of obesity and they are already at risk, this is a concern

Cynthia Bou Khalil, nutritionist

But people living in the UAE put on more weight, at 8kg on average, compared to 6.9kg in Turkey, 6.6kg in Spain, and 5.9kg in France.

A nutritionist from the company that commissioned the research said the high percentage of people who gained weight was surprising, not to mention worrying given that the UAE has a high rate of obesity.

In the UAE, 31 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men are obese, according to a World Obesity Federation figures.

“It is surprising that 50 per cent of an adult population has gained weight during the pandemic. That’s a big number, and it’s one of the highest,” said Cynthia Bou Khalil, a nutritionist with Allurion, which makes a swallowable gastric balloon that requires no surgery, endoscopy, or anaesthesia to fit.

“Knowing that already the UAE is a country that has a high rate of obesity and they are already at risk, this is a concern.”

The main cause of weight gain everywhere was a lack of physical exercise, with half of people, or more in some cases, saying they took less during the pandemic.

Eating between meals was also a significant factor, the study found.

More than half of people in Spain and Turkey said lack of exercise was the biggest culprit in weight gain, followed by snacking.

In France, 47 per cent blamed their weight gain on eating between meals, while 37 per cent in the UAE said this was the case.

“We had stress eating and we had boredom eating,” Ms Bou Khalil said.

“People were bored. And some people were saying we were eating more but sometimes we were eating healthy, just big portions, and we couldn’t stop ourselves.”

In total, 64 per cent of the UAE cohort in the survey said they intend to lose weight by the summer.

Eighty-one per cent of those plan to do so through exercise, 76 per cent with a healthy diet, and 68 per cent by fasting.

About half plan to use diet apps or follow an extreme or fad diet.

More than a fifth said they would be willing to get Allurion’s gastric balloon fitted, while an equal number said they would be open to having either bariatric or cosmetic surgery.

Eat your way to good health: in pictures

Updated: May 17, 2021 04:16 PM

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