Healthcare spending in the UAE is predicted to more than double to $47.5 billion by 2040 as obesity tightens its grip on the nation’s health according to the latest Global Burden of Disease study.
The world’s largest scientific collaboration on population health has revealed new trends in illness, death and risk factors attributing to poor health in the UAE, and elsewhere.
Globally, the number of children dying under the age of five has less than halved since 1990. In 2016, fewer than 5 million died in one year, compared with 11 million 27 years ago.
In the UAE, as in 2005, metabolic risks associated to obesity and a high body mass index remains the biggest contributing factor of death and disease.
The latest figures show heart disease is the biggest killer, followed by road accidents.
Diabetes has climbed into the top ten causes of premature death in the UAE, rising from 11th place in 2005 to 7th on the list in 2016.
Non-communicable diseases make up six of the top ten causes of premature death in the country.
The latest figures rubber stamps doctors’ calls for people to take more responsibility for their own health, with many causes of death preventable by simple lifestyle changes.
“These changes are being felt in most of the developed world, but they are becoming more of a problem in the UAE because there is less physical activity here,” said Dr Mohaymen Abdelghany, a senior physician and CEO at Al Zahra Hospital, Dubai.
“Unhealthy dietary habits and a lack of physical activity is common, and we are seeing more young patients with morbid obesity.
“They have blood pressure problems and diabetes, so their health problems become more complex.
“There should be huge emphasis on education and awareness, especially in young people to help improve this long term outlook.”
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Doctors have said UAE children are becoming obese at a faster rate, and that is bringing more health problems which are expensive to treat.
There has been a rise in adolescents referred for obesity related surgery to help deal with complex health issues, but doctors said this is always a last resort.
“Spending on obesity related healthcare in the UAE is expected to more than double,” said Dr Abdelghany, who has helped develop healthcare systems in the GCC, MENA, India and America.
“Sustainability and to assess how strong healthcare systems are to cope with the rising cost should be a big focus of all planning.
“The more we spend in this area, the less we will have to spend on acute care, and the more productive people will be in the community.
“It is a strategy that needs to be addressed, otherwise the costs will keep rising.
“Tax on cigarettes and soft drinks will no doubt be a major source of funding to help deal with these rising costs of healthcare spending.
“A proper strategy on primary healthcare and preventative measures will pay off in future.”
Life expectancy in both men and women has steadily increased since 1990, to mirror improvements in healthcare and disease diagnosis.
In 1990, women in the UAE were expected to live until 72, that is now 78 according to the latest observations.
Men can now expect to live to the age of 74, on average, eight years longer than in 1990.
The annual GBD study, published in The Lancet, looked at 330 diseases in 195 countries, with a poor diet highlighted as the fastest growing global risk, attributing to one in five deaths and becoming more deadly than smoking.
More than 10 million were killed by a poor diet according to the 2016 study, an increase in 11 per cent since 2006.
“Death is a powerful motivator, both for individuals and for countries, to address diseases that have been killing us at high rates,” said Dr Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, that helped co-ordinate the study.
“But, we’re been much less motivated to address issues leading to illnesses.
“A ‘triad of troubles’ – obesity, conflict, and mental illness, including substance use disorders – poses a stubborn and persistent barrier to active and vigorous lifestyles.”
Excess weight was responsible for 4.5 million deaths worldwide, rising by 29 per cent in a decade, whilst smoking deaths were up by 4 per cent, killing seven million people.
Non-communicable diseases were responsible for 72 per cent of all deaths worldwide in 2016, compared with 58 per cent in 1990.
Deaths from malaria, lower respiratory infections, diarrhoea, premature births and HIV have all declined by at least 30 per cent in the last decade, the study revealed.