More than 60 per cent of UAE residents overweight, study finds
ABU DHABI // More than 66 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women in the UAE are overweight or obese, according to a new analysis, prompting researchers to issue a call for action for the region.
The UAE and other Arabian Gulf countries must tackle obesity because the high prevalence rates – which do not seem to be levelling – will amount to a heavy burden on their societies, said Dr Ali Mokdad, director of Middle Eastern Initiatives at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the US, which analysed the data used in the study.
“That means more diabetes in a place where diabetes is a major problem,” he said. “That means more cardiovascular disease. That means more cancer.”
Even though these countries are affluent, the burden will be costly and place more pressure on government resources and families.
“They cannot afford to have the manpower to treat so many people with chronic diseases,” said Dr Mokdad.
The country ranked higher than the regional averages for rates in males younger than 20, men aged 20 or older, and girls and women younger than 20. Its rankings were lower than the regional averages for women aged 20 or older. They are roughly on a par with other developed nations, such as the US.
The report, released on Thursday, is based on statistics for children and adults from 1980 to last year gathered through the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The UAE statistics include some data from expatriates. Without that data, rates would be higher, Dr Mokdad said.
Governments must try some new things that are outside their comfort zones, and authorities from different institutions must work together to tackle the problem.
“There are a lot of initiatives in the UAE that are heading in the right direction,” said Dr Mokdad, adding that dealing with behaviours is “much easier said than done”.
“We have to be willing to experiment with new approaches.”
The rates are not a surprise and reflect what doctors see in their practices, said Dr Muhammed Hamed Farooqi, consultant endocrinologist and director of the Dubai Diabetes Centre.
“This study is basically confirming our observations,” he said.
Some less-developed countries in the region, such as Egypt – where almost 80 per cent of women are overweight or obese – have higher rates in certain categories than the Arabian Gulf countries.
But Dr Mokdad said the burden of these diseases was still higher in the Gulf. For instance, in the UAE, obesity is the top cause of lower disability-adjusted life years, which analysts use to measure the number of years lost because of ill health, disability or early death.
Despite nutrition, physical-activity programmes and other anti-obesity measures taken by countries, urgent global action and leadership is necessary to help countries “more effectively intervene”, according to the report.
“Not only is obesity increasing, but no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years,” the report read. “Unlike other major global risks such as tobacco and childhood malnutrition, obesity is not decreasing worldwide.”
The report also provides a lesson on emphasising prevention, particularly among young people, Dr Farooqi said. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.
“So if you look at it from that perspective, then our key focus group is children. In my opinion, to impact that group, what we need is help from schools and obviously the teachers, but more importantly mothers,” he said.
Historically in the Arab world, obesity was a sign of wealth. But the disease “is not about appearance”, Dr Mokdad said.
“It’s not the way we look. It’s really a disease. It’s really a major factor for morbidity and mortality,” he said.
The Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a US non-profit organisation, and carried out by a team of international researchers. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is a global health-research organisation based at the University of Washington.
Updated: May 29, 2014 04:00 AM