New global initiative to tackle obesity levels backed by Gulf medics

The Patient Network aims to give a voice to people battling weight issues and encourage them to take up healthier lifestyles

More people in the UAE are opting for weight loss surgery amid a rise in obesity rates
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The UAE and the rest of the Gulf region is backing a new global drive to tackle the causes of obesity - and encourage people to choose healthier lifestyles.

The Patient Network, launched by the World Obesity Federation, will increase awareness of treatment options availability for people battling weight issues and provide vital information on how to adopt a healthier way of life.

The online portal will provide essential advice at a click of a mouse and ensure people with obesity do not have to suffer in silence.

The new resource has won the support of healthcare professionals across the Gulf and Lebanon.

Dr Nasreen Alfaris, an endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist in Saudi Arabia and co-chair of the World Obesity Gulf and Lebanon Network Steering Committee, said obesity is one of the major challenges facing the region.

"In some countries in our region a third of our people are living with obesity. This initiative will help people make informed choices about healthier lifestyles and the different treatment options available," said Dr Alfaris.

"Obesity is a complex disease that is driven by a multitude of factors, including our living environment, cultural traditions and genetics. It’s also one of the key health and lifestyle challenges facing our region.

"The Patient Network is an opportunity for people to share their own experiences and, in doing so, support other people living with obesity to manage weight loss and live a healthy, active lifestyle."

Speaking in the UAE, Lucy Keightley, Director of Communications and Partnerships at the World Obesity Federation, said the network  is an online hub in which people with obesity can share their stories in order to help others.

"If you are living with obesity and want a source of evidence based information, please join the Patient Network, a source of facts and information on obesity.

"The Patient Network is an online hub enabling people to connect with other people's stories and experiences. We are looking for people living with obesity to share their story. By sharing your personal experience, more people living with obesity will have access to the information and support to enable them to live a healthier active lifestyle."

The organisation has worked in tandem with a steering group of leading clinicians from across the region, drawing on their experiences to develop and roll out the initiative.

The Gulf and Lebanon Steering Committee met in Muscat earlier this year and will continue to provide expert advice to the network.

It is hoped the new website will encourage those with obesity to open up about their condition, helping to turn the tide on a worrying trend of people ignoring issues which can be hazardous to their short and long-term health.

Obesity levels have been a cause for concern for health experts in the UAE for many years.

Health authorities estimate up to 40 per cent of the child population in the UAE are either overweight or obese, with that trend leading to serious health conditions later.

The results of the five-year National Health Survey, announced by the Ministry of Health and Prevention in March, found 27.8 per cent of the 9,400 Emiratis and residents polled were obese.

During the European Congress on Obesity, held in Glasgow, Scotland in April, a Dubai doctor said many obese people in the UAE are reluctant to seek professional help due to the stigma surrounding their condition.

Dr Rita Nawar, an endocrinologist who has worked in the UAE for 12 years, said a delay in receiving medical support meant overweight residents were likely to suffer from a faster onset of related diseases and conditions such as diabetes.

She said obesity was on the national agenda and awareness was rising, but called for more education among professionals, health authorities and the public.

"A person with obesity – especially ladies in the UAE culture – may treat obesity themselves but without saying out loud that they are doing it," Dr Nawar told The National during the obesity summit.

“It is leading to a delay in seeking good professional help and it will increase the health burden from obesity.

“Many times I see a patient coming in for weight management only, but when we do testing they are diabetic already.”

There is “a little bit more awareness” of obesity in the UAE but the “stigma is still there and it needs a lot of work in order to change it”, she said.

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