Dubai: At least one in three expatriates in the UAE are making it a point to stay in good shape by following a “healthy” diet, according to a new research.

The study, conducted among 1,000 respondents, suggested that an increasing number of UAE residents are sticking to a good eating habit, with more than a third (35 per cent) of the sample population saying they regularly incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables in their meals.

“Many have made 'staying healthy’ the top item on their list of New Year resolutions. There is a good reason why people in the UAE, expats in particular, are trying to cultivate the habits of healthy eating – falling ill comes with a large financial burden,” said Parvez Naqvi, International Business Development Head of Al Ahli Holding Group, which commissioned the study.

Respondents in the survey were Asians, Arabs, Europeans and Americans. Naqvi said the results of the study also indicate that the ongoing health-awareness campaigns led by the government and other organisations, are finally creating an impact.

“More expats are now more aware of the need to establish healthy eating habits. We believe this is a result of several campaigns, led by the government, NGOs and corporates to make the populace adopt a more active daily routine and a more nutritious diet,” added Naqvi.

Poor eating habits has been a major public concern. A World Health Organisation study revealed that the UAE ranked 16th worldwide in diabetes prevalence, which means that one in five in the country is diabetic. The Health Authority Abu Dhabi in 2013 also found that school children in UAE are now 1.8 times more obese than children in the United States.

“The reason obesity has become so widespread [in the UAE] is due entirely to a poor diet adopted at a young age,” said Bara’a Osama Al-Ries, clinical dietician at Burjeel Hospital. “[In addition] diabetes is considered as one of the obesity co-morbidities. That means the children or adult who are obese is at a high risk of having diabetes or any other obesity co-morbidities.”

Al-Ries said that while some people in the UAE are turning to a healthy diet, obesity remains a problem, not just in the UAE but also all over the world. “We need more studies among the UAE society to conduct the reasons of obesity, and to start the next step for working more on the awareness of health especially among the children and women to decrease the spreading of obesity in our society.”

Besides, Al-Ries said, incorporating fruits and vegetables in the diet is not enough. “Focusing on one or two food groups is not healthy. To stay healthy, you should follow a healthy diet which should include food from all the groups, in moderate amount,” Al-Ries told Gulf News.

“It is better to make a variety of choices and colorful food to avoid the feeling of boredom. Try always to give your body what it needs from important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.”

“Staying healthy is not only related to food but it also requires a balance between the food intake and the physical activity you perform. So, by exercising regularly and having a healthy diet it will be easier for you to manage your weight and will also strengthen your muscles.”

However, it may be challenging to push most residents to stick to a really healthy diet, especially since food takeaway, home delivery or dining out is the norm.

According to a survey by KPMG, 66 per cent of residents in the country eat out at least once a week. Food courts, casual dining restaurants and quick-service outlets are the top choices, and each resident spends about Dh120 on out-of-home meals, on average.

This is probably because of the fast-paced lifestyle of most people, but if it’s really difficult to fit home cooking into the schedule, it pays to carefully choose what one orders at the restaurant.

“Balancing one’s tendency to dine out with the need to have nutritious meals means paying attention to where one eats and what one orders. [As what the health experts suggest,] look for quality ingredients and pre-determine your ‘go-to’ menu options,” Al Ahli Holding Group, which has recently opened a new restaurant called “Little Manila”, said.