Dubai: Obesity can kill is the message behind the clarion call for action in the UAE. Health authorities in the country are striving to spread the message — losing weight can curtail obesity-related risks.
Excess weight increases the risk of several debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, infertility and cancer.
Senior health officials say the health risks of obesity are numerous, and if the rate of obesity is not controlled, the growing burden of chronic diseases will increase in the adult as well as the younger populations.
Obesity, due to the associated morbidity and increased early mortality, is a complex problem, said Dr Khalid Al Jabri, manager of Non-Communicable Diseases at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad).
He told Gulf News: “The concept of health has to change and an attitude towards a healthy lifestyle has to be adopted.”
Available 2012 figures place the UAE seventh on the Global Fat Scale among 177 countries, calculated using UN data on population size and estimates of global weight from the World Health Organisation (Who). The Who also estimates that about 20 per cent of the UAE adult population is overweight or obese.
In children too, weight gain is worryingly present. The 2011 figures from a national survey of Emirati and expatriate schoolchildren by the UAE Ministry of Health (MOH) suggest that 15.5 per cent are obese, 39.2 per cent are overweight and 21 per cent consume fast food three times or more a day.
According to international studies, weight gain is a result of various factors including increased availability of high-calorie foods, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and irregular lifestyle, among others.
On the risks of being overweight or obese, Dr Al Jabri said: “Weight gain puts people at a higher risk of a number of conditions like coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, lipid disorders [high cholesterol or high triglycerides] and stroke. Cardiovascular diseases accounted for more than a quarter of deaths in 2011 in Abu Dhabi.”
He explained that obesity is also linked to conditions such as diseases of the liver and gall bladder, osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea, and gynaecological issues. Obesity has been linked to endometrial, breast and colon cancers as well.
Shedding light on the link between obesity and sexual health, Professor Heba Kotb said that poor sexual health in men and women can lead to the destruction of marriage and family.
Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the Pfizer media gathering on Thursday, Dr Kotb, whose research is based on human sexuality and associated conditions, said: “Obesity influences sexual function and reproduction.”
Estimates from 1990 to 2007 by the Who suggest that the birth rate in the UAE almost halved from four children per woman to just two.
Dr Kotb said: “Infertility issues in both men and women are linked to obesity. Also, obesity affects the sexual activity — in quality and quantity.” Speaking on the ways to treat obesity, Dr Faisal Badri, head of General Surgery at Rashid Hospital, who initiated the hospital’s bariatric surgery unit in 2009, said that weight loss should have specific aims.
These are to prevent further weight gain, lose weight through healthy lifestyle changes, avoid regaining weight, and reduce the risk of obesity-related complications such as diabetes and hypertension.
He warned saying that weight loss procedures such as bariatric surgery should be used as a last resort to treat people who are dangerously obese and who haven’t responded positively to non-surgical treatments.
“Surgery is also an option for people with a strong genetic predisposition to obesity who haven’t been able to lose weight through diet and exercise,” he said.
Commenting on the culture of over-the-counter (OTC) weight loss drugs and electronic devices that promote weight loss, he said: “We see patients who have used these options and failed. These aren’t effective.”
Dr Wafa Ayesh, director of Clinical Nutrition at the DHA told Gulf News that people should treat weight loss diets with caution.
She explained that many diets are temporary methods to lose weight, and may not be sustainable or healthy in the long term.
“Your body burns calories and excess weight in stages. If you try to force your body to lose weight faster than it naturally wants to, you can experience serious health problems,” she said.
Gulf News also spoke to events director Niousha Ehsan of the Weight Loss Show that opens on February 1. She told Gulf News: “When it comes to losing weight, it can be very difficult sorting through the overwhelming amount of information surrounding fitness, nutrition, and overall wellness. We have a panel of the region’s top experts to help with sifting through this information.”