UAE study: obese young Emirati men at high risk of cancer

Obese or overweight young men aged 18-29 putting themselves at risk of cancer, a new study of 33,000 Emiratis reveals

A study of 33,000 Emirati males has revealed high rates of obesity among 18-29 year olds. Getty
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Thousands of young Emirati men are sliding into the high-risk category for cancer as they are overweight or obese, a new study has found.

In one of the largest national population studies conducted in the UAE, of more than 33,000 men aged 18-29, 71 per cent recorded an unhealthy weight on the body mass index.

Half of the study subjects were either overweight or obese by 18, and 41 per cent showed early signs of diabetes.

“Our findings underline the serious nature of cardiometabolic risk factors and associated disease in this region,” said study lead, Prof Ashraf Alzaabi at the Zayed Military Hospital.

“At age 18, 42 per cent of study subjects were in the normal BMI range, but this drastically decreased to only 29 per cent at age 29.

“These shocking figures make us ask the difficult question of what happens during this critical time frame to make the majority of young UAE men overweight or obese.”

The numbers will raise concerns in the healthcare community as new research points to obesity overtaking smoking as a greater cancer risk.

A Cancer Research UK study revealed excess weight is now a bigger cause of bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver cancer than tobacco.

The obesity results on young Emirati men contradict data from a recent National Health Survey.

In March, the government announced adult obesity had decreased in the overall population by a quarter between 2010 and 2019, with diabetes falling by a third.

The same survey revealed smoking is on the wane, as more young people turn to recently legalised e-cigarettes and improved smoking cessation services.

The national survey found the number of smokers fell from 11.1 per cent in 2010, to an all-time low of 9.1 per cent.

When comparing similar global population studies, UAE obesity rates were double those seen in Western Europe, and second only to the US.

The escalation of obesity in young Emirati men is a growing concern for doctors.

“We must look at these critical 10 years closely and evaluate ways we can support almost 70 per cent of 29 year olds who are overweight or obese,” said Dr Alzaabi.

"For health authorities to meet the challenges associated with the increase in cardiometabolic risk factors in the UAE, continued surveillance and awareness of these conditions is needed.

“Public health initiatives are required to address these prevalence levels and anticipate future burden for which these men are at risk.

“This must be tackled with a multidisciplinary approach through national public health initiatives, factoring in health education, access to sports facilities, and initiatives to encourage healthy eating.”

In April, Euromonitor International analysts told a World Tobacco Middle East event in Dubai cigarette sales account for less than 90 per cent of the tobacco industry.

It was the first time cigarettes dipped below 90 per cent of all global tobacco sales.

After a relaxing of rules on the legal sale of e-cigarettes and less harmful heat-not-burn technology, the first Phillip Morris International stores dedicated to smoking alternatives are set to open later this month.

"Increasing the price of cigarettes and adding warning to the boxes has worked in some countries to decrease the prevalence of smokers," said Dr Hussam Al Trabulsi, a bariatric surgeon at Medcare Hosptial, Al Safa.

“It would be interesting to find out if the same could work for junk food, considering both are associated with an increase in cancer risk.

“Patients need to be educated on the importance of the nutritional value of the food they are eating,”

‘Sin taxes’, like the levy placed on tobacco and sugar loaded drinks across the GCC, may not be the best course of action to reduce the impact of fast food on health, according to Dr Arun Warrier, an oncologist at Aster Hospital, Mankhool.

“Even though tobacco and alcohol abuse are well established causes of cancer, these measures have not produced any significant reduction in numbers of cancer cases caused by their use,” he said.

“There has to be an aggressive campaign aimed at educating the public to make healthy lifestyle choices, with accessibility to healthy food and facilities to exercise.”