Obesity and diabetes rates begin to decrease, National Health Survey shows

Results of a five-year survey that polled thousands of Emiratis and residents are revealed

A man sits down for a smoke while spending time with family on a cool, windy evening following a cloudy, rainy day on Monday, Mar. 23, 2015, at the Breawater Corniche in Abu Dhabi. (Silvia Razgova / The National)  (Usage: Mar. 23, 2015, Section: NA, Reporter: standalone) *** Local Caption ***  SR-150323-secondhandsmoke04.jpg
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Obesity and diabetes are on the decline in the UAE, according to a new government survey.

The results of the five-year National Health Survey, which polled 9,400 Emiratis and residents, were revealed yesterday by the Ministry of Health and Prevention.

Endorsed by the World Health Organisation, the survey showed a drop in percentage rates for diabetes, obesity and smoking, but a rise in high blood pressure among adults.

Adult obesity decreased by about a quarter between 2010 and 2019 and diabetes among adults dropped by more than a third during the same period. The results are significant because the UAE previously had rates higher than the global average in both. Health authorities estimate up to 40 per cent of children in the UAE are either overweight or obese.

The only negative result was the increase in the prevalence of hypertension – or high blood pressure – in adults to 28.8 per cent from 14.7 per cent in 2010.

"While the results are positive, it does show areas that require more work," said Dr Hussein Al Rand, assistant undersecretary for health centres and clinics at the ministry.

"We do see significant improvement over 2010 as a result of health campaigns and awareness."

Results of the National Health Survey shows improvement in the UAE's rate of lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes. Ramon Peñas / The National
Results of the National Health Survey shows improvement in the UAE's rate of lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes. Ramon Peñas / The National

The survey showed improved cholesterol levels among adults, falling to 43.7 per cent this year compared with 57.6 per cent nine years ago.

The number of smokers is also at an all-time low at 9.1 per cent, down from 11.1 per cent in 2010. Ministry officials attributed this to increased regulations on tobacco, the prevalence of smoking cessation services, health campaigns and excise tax.

The UAE also fares well ­compared with other GCC countries.

Kuwait has the highest rate of obesity at 37.9 per cent, with Saudi Arabia next at 35.4 per cent. The UAE has a lower rate of 27.8 but Oman has the lowest at 27 per cent.

“Compared with neighbouring countries the UAE is at an excellent stage,” Mr Al Rand said. In diabetes, he said, the UAE has an only slightly higher rate, 11.8 per cent, than Bahrain at 11.5 per cent.

However, it is the increase in the total number of adults suffering from hypertension that doctors say is confusing.

According to the survey, the number of adults with high blood pressure has almost doubled since the 2010 survey.

Dr Wissam Al Sahli, consultant intervention cardiologist at NMC Royal said that high blood pressure tends to be influenced by obesity and cholesterol, which have decreased.

“If they are all down, then the hypertension levels should be low as well,” he said.

Dr Al Rand said the higher result could be the result of increased stress.

Dr Maisaa Al Suliman, family medicine specialist at Burjeel Hospital for advanced surgery, said several factors could be contributing to the increase.

“It could be stress and it could be lifestyle choices, such as eating fast food. Fast food has high amounts of sodium which could increase not only cholesterol but blood pressure as well,” she said.

The survey also polled the percentage of babies who were exclusively breastfed from birth to five months. It showed an increase from 34 per cent in 2010 to 59.7 per cent this year.

The results reflect the UAE’s efforts to promote exclusive breastfeeding after studies showed that breastfeeding figures in the Emirates were lower than the global average. In response, the UAE made nursing mandatory in 2014 and the labour law was updated to entitle working mothers to two 30-minute breaks a day to breastfeed their children for the first 18 months.

Abdulrahman Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention, said the survey’s outcomes would be used to inform policies and targeted campaigns to achieve the health goals outlined in Vision 2021.

“The survey will help update the results of several strategic health indicators and promote programmes of national health planning and policies,” Mr Al Owais said.