Small weight loss can lower risks

Weight control and the management of obesity levels are crucial lifestyle environmental factors.

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ABU DHABI // Small decreases in body weight, even as little as one per cent, can reduce the risk of dying early, an endocrinology expert said yesterday. Dramatic weight loss is not necessary to reduce the risk of life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and other elements that can lead to premature death, said Karim Meeran, a professor of endocrinology at Imperial College London.

Prof Meeran was speaking at the Abu Dhabi Medical Congress, the state news agency, WAM, reported. "Weight control and the management of obesity levels are crucial lifestyle environmental factors that can help create healthier nations," he said. "Indeed, a small drop in weight can lead to a 10 per cent drop in risk of death." The World Health Organisation released statistics in June detailing the UAE's obesity epidemic.

According to the group, almost 40 per cent of women and more than a quarter of men are considered obese, giving the UAE one of the highest rates of the disease in the world. Health experts have long blamed poor diet and a lack of exercise in the country for the weight problem. "Behaviour such as laziness, reluctance to exercise and excess eating is driven by genes, which are impossible to identify due to their sheer numbers," Prof Meeran said.

"However, environmental changes through self management or even by-laws and regulations can lead to a significant switch from harmful behaviour." Governments can take actions to encourage better habits, he added, much like taxation on cigarettes has led to a reduction in smoking. "Internationally, heavy taxation on cigarettes has led to significant reduction in smoking in the past few years," Prof Meeran said. "Similarly, environment and policies that encourage people to eat healthier, exercise more and lead active lifestyle are now required to divert a diabetes epidemic."

Today marks the start of a month-long diabetes publicity drive by the Ministry of Health. It will include a series of talks, presentations, free checkups and other activities across the emirates, WAM said. The event will wrap up on November 14 to mark World Diabetes Day. "Vast prevalence of diabetes is a major concern for the nation and as such top priority is accorded to its mitigation," said Dr Ali Shakar, director general of the Ministry of Health and head of the National Diabetes Committee.

"We have drawn up exhaustive plans to reduce the incidence through generating awareness."