Fast foods such as hamburgers, fried chicken and pizza are a factor in obesity and diabetes. Fatima Al Marzouqi / The National
Fast foods such as hamburgers, fried chicken and pizza are a factor in obesity and diabetes. Fatima Al Marzouqi / The National

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

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  or contact the study team on 8002327.

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Stars: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Sheila Atim, Lashana Lynch, John Boyega 

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Founder: Badr Ward

Launched: 2014

Employees: 60

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: EdTech

Funding to date: $15 million

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If you go

The flights
There are various ways of getting to the southern Serengeti in Tanzania from the UAE. The exact route and airstrip depends on your overall trip itinerary and which camp you’re staying at. 
Flydubai flies direct from Dubai to Kilimanjaro International Airport from Dh1,350 return, including taxes; this can be followed by a short flight from Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti with Coastal Aviation from about US$700 (Dh2,500) return, including taxes. Kenya Airways, Emirates and Etihad offer flights via Nairobi or Dar es Salaam.   

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”


Elena Rybakina (Kazakhstan)
Ons Jabeur (Tunisia)
Maria Sakkari (Greece)
Barbora Krejčíková (Czech Republic)
Beatriz Haddad Maia (Brazil)
Jeļena Ostapenko (Latvia)
Liudmila Samsonova
Daria Kasatkina
Veronika Kudermetova
Caroline Garcia (France)
Magda Linette (Poland)
Sorana Cîrstea (Romania)
Anastasia Potapova
Anhelina Kalinina (Ukraine)
Jasmine Paolini (Italy)
Emma Navarro (USA)
Lesia Tsurenko (Ukraine)
Emma Raducanu (Great Britain) – wildcard

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