Dubai: The findings of one of the largest population studies conducted recently on 33,000 Emirati men between the age of 18 and 20 in the UAE has thrown up some startling statistics, with the majority of Emirati men under 30 suffering from obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle conditions.
The study, led by Professor Ashraf Hassan Humaidan Al Zaabi from Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi, indicated a high incidence of cardio-metabolic disorders such as high triglycerides, obesity, impaired fasting glucose, hypertension and high cholesterol in the subjects.
Detailed results from this cross-sectional analysis study of male nationals demonstrated half of the subjects were overweight or obese at age 18, and this rose drastically, so much 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 the men presented at least one cardio-metabolic risk factor such as high Basal Metabolic Index (BMI), impaired fasting 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, the study indicated. Alarmingly, around one in four subjects of the study had more than one cardio-metabolic risk factor.
Professor Al Zaabi said: “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 men 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?”
Over 70 per cent obese by the age of 29 years
Commenting on the findings he added: “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.”
Tracing the genesis of the alarming trend, Dr Mohammad Al Haddad, consultant bariatric surgeon and head of bariatric and metabolic surgery at Health Point, Abu Dhabi told Gulf News: “The obesity epigenetics is very high in the UAE and the statistics of incidence is three times higher than the rest of the world. Obesity begins at the time of conception of the foetus, when mothers who are obese or have a bad lifestyle conceive. Therefore, it is important to check obesity from childhood to be able to stop this trend of early onset of adult obesity, diabetes and other cardio-metabolic co-morbidities.”
Dr Haddad attributed the current trend to children following a very sedentary lifestyle.
“Children today are allowed too much screen time, be it tablet, computer, smart phone or gaming consoles. They need to exercise for at least 60 minutes each day, instead they hardly exercise and consume high calorie processed food, full of fat and sugar. These fast foods add empty calories to the child’s diet, spike their insulin levels which in turn makes them eat more and ends up in insulin resistance which causes accumulation of fat. Once they are obese and unable to knock off the fat, they grow into young obese adults.”
Dr Haddad, who is part of the Abu Dhabi Department of Health’s Taskforce to inculcate good health in children, explained how the government had banned the sale of junk food in school canteens and felt that no restaurants selling fast food should be located near schools. He also said that parents should provide nutritionally balanced meals in school lunch boxes.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a medical condition that occurs when a person carries excess body fat that could affect their health. A person is said to be obese if their
Body Mass Index — a tool to assess if he or she is at an appropriate weight for their age, sex and height — is over 30.
According to the National Health Survey, adult obesity in the UAE stands at 27.8 per cent in 2019.
Tips to combat obesity should begin from childhood
- Mothers-to-be will have to shed weight and abstain from junk food before they conceive as they transfer insulin resistance to their child.
- Give up the concept that a chubby child is a healthy child and focus on providing nutritiously balanced food combined with physical activity to build lean muscle mass.
- Portion control is the key. Serve small portions of food to children. Right now parents serve mounds of food to the child and insist that he/she must finish everything on the plate.
- Reduce screen time to not more than two hours per day and make sure the child gets a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity in a day.
- Schools to be encouraged to include parents and community members in initiating an educational drive on health and nutrition.