waist size
Women should aim to maintain a waist size less than 85cm, while men should not exceed 100cm, doctors said. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: UAE residents do not pay enough heed to the risks of increasing waist size despite growing international awareness, doctors said.

Fat in the abdominal area significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease — one of the UAE’s top killers.

Traditionally, doctors have used body mass index (BMI) — the ratio of a person’s mass to height — to ascertain overall wellbeing, but more studies are showing that visceral fat better indicates a person’s risk of developing serious illnesses like cardiovascular disease or cancer. Most recently, as Gulf News reported in July, a 20-year University of Iowa study of 157,000 women found that those with a healthy BMI, but excess abdominal fat faced a 31 per cent risk of premature death.

Dr Mahmoud Traina

“In general, education about the risks of an unhealthy BMI is itself low here, so there is even less knowledge about the dangers of abdominal fat and central obesity,” Dr Mahmoud Traina, interventional cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News.

The doctor said that he often comes across residents, especially of Asian descent, who are only slightly overweight but have poor overall health due to central obesity.

Dr Mohammad Al Hadad

All fat is not equal, and Dr Mohammad Al Hadad, head of bariatric and metabolic surgery at Healthpoint, cautioned that fat in the abdominal area functions less like fat cells and more like an organ.

“It secretes substances that promote insulin resistance, and with the high prevalence of diabetes in the region, people must take extra care to avoid this risk factor,” he said.

In the UAE, nearly one in five people is known to suffer from diabetes, while cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 36 per cent of all fatalities in the country.

As a very rough estimate, women should aim to maintain a waist size less than 85cm, while men should not exceed 100cm, Dr Al Hadad advised.

“People are more aware today of the risks of obesity, but they still find it difficult to change their behaviour towards food. In addition, it is advisable to engage in an hour of moderate exercise for an hour every other day, as well to drink enough water to ensure that one’s basal metabolic rate does not fall,” he said.

Dr Traina added that exercise is also especially effective at attacking central obesity.