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Abu Dhabi: There is high prevalence of cardio-metabolic risk factors such as obesity and diabetes in men under 30 in the UAE, according to a study conducted by the Zayed Military Hospital, which was published this week.

The study, which covered over 33,000 Emirati men aged 18 to 29, was led by Professor Ashraf Hasan Humaidan Al Zaabi, head of the Respiratory Division at the hospital.

New findings revealed elevated levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, impaired fasting glucose and hypertension among under-30 men.

The Arab peninsula is known to have one of the highest prevalence rates of diabetes and obesity worldwide, according to international reports, with the rate continuing to rise. It is thought these increases in prevalence have developed due to unhealthy dietary changes and sedentary lifestyles common to the region, although there are possible hereditary factors that could influence outcomes.

Results from the cross-sectional analysis study of male nationals demonstrated half of the study subjects were overweight or obese at the age of 18, and this rose drastically so that by the age of 29, only 29 per cent were in the normal BMI range. There was also a high prevalence of diabetes (4.7 per cent) and 41 per cent of subjects had impaired fasting blood glucose, an indicator for prediabetes.

Overall, 62 per cent of study subjects presented at least one cardio-metabolic risk factor such as high BMI, glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure. UAE patients who had a high BMI were more likely to present multiple cardio-metabolic risk factors and to have hypertension.

Alarmingly, around one in four subjects presented with more than one cardio-metabolic risk factor.

These trends are not limited to nationals, as other recent studies have reported similarly high rates of obesity and diabetes among expatriates residing in the UAE.

When compared to similar global population studies, the prevalence rates observed in the UAE were twofold higher than those seen in Western Europe, which reported less than two per cent for diabetes, less than 15 per cent for obesity and fewer than eight per cent for hypertension.

The most recent study from the US found the prevalence of diabetes in individuals aged between 20 and 44 was 3.3 per cent. Overall, the UAE ranked highest in diabetes (4.7 per cent) and hypertension, and came in a very close second to the US for obesity.

“Our findings underline the serious nature of cardio-metabolic risk factors and associated disease in this region. At age 18, 42 per cent of the subjects were in the normal BMI range, but this drastically decreased to only 29 per cent at age 29. These shocking figures make us ask the difficult question of what happens during this critical time frame to make the majority of young UAE men overweight or obese,” said Professor Al Zaabi.

“We must look at these critical 10 years closely and evaluate ways we can support almost 70 per cent of 29-year-olds who are overweight or obese. In order for health authorities to meet the challenges associated with the increase in cardio-metabolic risk factors in the UAE, continued surveillance and awareness of these conditions is needed.

“Public health initiatives are required to address these prevalence levels and anticipate future burden for which these men are at risk. This must be tackled with a multidisciplinary approach through national public health initiatives, factoring in health education, access to sports facilities, and initiatives to encourage healthy eating,” emphasised Dr Al Zaabi.

The research team also included Professor Juma Al Kaabi from Department of Internal Medicine, UAE University Al Ain, Professor Fatma Al Maskari from the Institute of Public Health and Zayed Centre for Health Sciences UAE University, Dr Ahmad Faisal Farhood from Zayed Military Hospital and Dr Luai A Ahmad from the Institute of Public Health UAE University.