Heart disease growing as UAE bucks trend among developed nations, say researchers

NYU Abu Dhabi study seeks 20,000 UAE nationals for landmark study to chart health and illnesses

Fast foods such as hamburgers, fried chicken and pizza are a factor in obesity and diabetes. Fatima Al Marzouqi / The National
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Decreasing life expectancy and increasing heart disease among Emiratis is placing new urgency on a critical new study investigating the root causes of the high levels of diabetes, obesity and heart disease in the UAE.

“In most Western, developed nations, heart disease has been falling for many years, but in the UAE, after a period when it was falling, it started to increase again,” said Dr Raghib Ali, director of the Public Health Research Center at New York University Abu Dhabi. “Now the UAE, for the first time since the country was created, is facing declining life expectancy because of the increased risk of heart disease today.”

Dr Ali said he hopes a pioneering new longitudinal study he is leading looking into the root causes of the high levels of diabetes, obesity and heart disease in the UAE will help address and prevent these public health issues in the future.

“Our study is focusing on obesity and diabetes and heart disease because heart disease is the number one killer, and diabetes is the number one risk factor for heart disease, and obesity is the number one risk factor for diabetes,” said Dr Ali, who is the principal investigator of the UAE Healthy Future Study, which began earlier this year.


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NYU Abu Dhabi and the NYU Langone Medical Center have collaborated with local partners in Abu Dhabi to conduct the long-term study and are looking to recruit 20,000 Emiratis between the ages of 18 to 40 years to participate.

Since the study was announced in February, 3,000 Emiratis have registered.

“In general, people are very happy to take part, they see it as a service to the community and to the nation,” said Dr Ali. “Most people know someone in their family who either has diabetes or has heart disease and they recognise that this is the only way to really understand what the cause of these diseases are among Emiratis. And, once they understand that, the majority are not just willing, but keen to take part.”

A new UAE Healthy Future Study registration and assessment centre opened at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi last month to encourage more Emirati volunteers to enlist.

Registration takes about 45 minutes and requires participants to fill out a questionnaire, provide body measurements and samples of blood, urine and saliva.

Recruitment will continue through 2018 and Dr Ali said he expects the first follow-up with the volunteers to take place in 2019.

The transient nature of expatriates living in the UAE excluded them from the study, which requires participants to be present for future follow-ups.

It will take at least 10 years for researchers to collect a minimum amount of sufficient data that will allow them to understand the role genetics and lifestyle choices play in causing obesity, diabetes and heart disease among Emiratis.

“We have a lot of data from Western populations and a little bit from China and India and a few other populations, but we have no local data,” said Dr Ali.

“The ultimate aim of this study is to prevent these diseases, but the first step is to understand how important the different risk factors are, because they are not the same in every population, so we need local data.”

Participants can sign up by visiting the UAE Healthy Future registration and assessment centre near the main reception area at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

The study is being conducted in collaboration with Zayed Military Hospital, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha), Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Healthpoint Hospital, Abu Dhabi Blood Bank, Al Ain Regional Blood Bank, UAE University, Khalifa University, and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.

For more information and for participation details, please visit the UAE Healthy Future study website on UAEHealthyFuture.ae  or contact the study team on 8002327.