Abu Dhabi, UAE: According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), at least 2.8 million people die every year for being overweight or obese. The worldwide prevalence of obesity has more than doubled between 1980 and 2014, with 13 per cent of the world’s adult population alone found to be obese last year.
In a survey released this year by Zurich International Life, 47.5 per cent of UAE residents were overweight, with a BMI of between 25 and 30, while another 13 per cent were obese, with a BMI of over 30. Since the average BMI in the UAE is 25.6, the average UAE resident is considered overweight.
Forty per cent of 11-to-16 year olds and 20 per cent of children under the age of 11 in the UAE are obese, according to Wafa Helmi Ayesh, Director of Clinical Nutrition Department at Dubai Health Authority. And an obese child is likely to grow into an obese adult.
So how are people ending up obese in the UAE, Many point to the contribution of a poor lifestyle — long working hours, lack of activity due to high temperatures during the hotter months and the readily available fast food choices. But are these good enough excuses?
Absolutely not, say experts.
Dr Farhana Bin Lootah, Internal Medicine Specialist, Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, Abu Dhabi, doesn’t completely agree with the view that lifestyle in the UAE has contributed to the high rise in obesity. The number of fast food chains may have increased, in the UAE, she argues, but so have the number of gyms. For every new fast food restaurant a person chooses to go to, there is a gym nearby he can also consider using.
Obese people, says Dr Farhana, are 85 per cent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, which is lifestyle related. “Fifty per cent of people who have diabetes, specially Type 2, don’t know they have it. So it’s very important to be screened for it.”
She advises anyone who has a bit of ‘tummy’, a family history of diabetes or an unhealthy lifestyle to get screened for Type 2 diabetes. “If you catch it as pre-diabetes, it’s like a yellow card. You can reverse it,” she says. She warns that if pre-diabetes develops into diabetes, there is no going back.
Dr Farhana describes what she calls “a chronic silent disease”, a disease that sees sugar levels in the blood increase to high level. If this is not treated, the sugar (glucose) will try and damage the blood vessels. High sugar levels in the eye, with time, can cause blindness. High glucose in the nerves can cause them to be oversensitive (cause a lot of pain) or the opposite — cause loss of sensation. Risk of heart problems are much higher than of other health issues related to diabetes type 2, she warns.
Wafa says, “If you are obese, you are simply abusing your body.”
She lists the number of diseases that people with obesity are more likely to suffer from; Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, blockage of arteries, cancer, skin diseases, osteoporosis and gout.
The habit of eating out and away from the family dinner table is a factor that Wafa believes is contributing to the rise in obesity. Through DHA’s eating healthy awareness campaign, she discovered that families were eating together only twice a month. This has a very negative effect as the children are not being observed when they are eating which can result in developing bad food habits.
© Gulf NewsSep 2015