Obese people 'three times more likely' to end up in hospital because of Covid-19, says UAE health official

Awareness programme is launched to highlight dangers of obesity during pandemic

Obese people are three times more likely to be admitted to hospital after catching coronavirus, a senior UAE health official said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention launched an awareness programme to highlight the links between obesity and more severe cases of the virus.

Health experts said people with obesity and chronic diseases were especially vulnerable to infection.

“Since the early days of the pandemic, the ministry has paid special attention to obese patients and those with chronic diseases and has accordingly assigned them special healthcare,” said Dr Hussein Al Rand, assistant under-secretary for centres and health clinics.

“They have been given priority in lab and home testing to limit their contact with others in health centres and are among the priority groups in receiving the Covid-19 jabs.”

Dr Al Rand said people who were suffering from underlying conditions had to take extra care to ensure they were not exposing themselves to greater risk.

“People with chronic conditions such as asthma and lung disease, cardiovascular problems, uncontrolled diabetes, severe obesity, a weakened immune system due to diseases such as HIV or who are undergoing cancer treatment must be more careful to protect themselves against the virus,” said Dr Al Rand, who said the severity of Covid-19 increased in those over the age of 60.

Dr Fadila Mohammed Sharif, director of Health Education and Promotion at the ministry, explained the dangers.

“Statistics show that obesity triples the risks of hospitalisation in case of infection, as obesity is associated with weak immunity and reduces lung capacity, making it difficult to breathe,” she said.

Obesity levels have long been an issue of concern in the UAE. The country ranked 26th on the Global Obesity Observatory’s list of countries with high percentages of obesity, which was released in April.

It was behind the US, in 14th place, but ahead of the UK (29th), when it came to obesity levels.

Bolstering public health

A 2019 study of 33,000 Emirati men in the UAE, carried out by Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi, found 58 per cent were overweight or obese at the age of 18, with the figure rising to 71 per cent by the age of 29.

One of the UAE’s leading obesity experts said the population needed to change if the problem was to be overcome.

“People are too quick to get surgery to try and solve their issues with obesity,’ said Dr Ayman Soliman, consultant in the general unit of laparoscopic and bariatric surgery (obesity) at Medcare Hospital Al Safa.

“It’s better to focus more on a healthy diet and getting proper exercise than just relying on surgery to fix the issues.

“Many people get surgery to solve their weight issues, but the problems come back because they still don’t change their lifestyles.”

Healthier lifestyles

Researchers at the Arabian Wellness and Lifestyle Management centre at RAK Hospital studied more than 3,200 people in the emirate to understand factors that put people at increased risk from coronavirus.

The results, released in February, found overweight people were 62 per cent more likely to develop complications.

Patients with a diet heavy in fast food were 51 per cent more at risk; smokers 45 per cent; people over the age of 50, 40 per cent; and those suffering from heart problems 33 per cent.

“Obesity and bad eating habits increase the risk of Covid-19 infection and its complications,” said Dr Biju Viswambharan, specialist in internal medicine at NMC Specialty Hospital, Al Ain.

Updated: June 7, 2021 10:42 AM

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