Higher living standards push UAE nationals into obesity club

Sunday, Feb 14, 2010

Gulf News

Dubai The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes growing numbers of UAE nationals are becoming obese because "they are being spoiled by their high incomes".

The report in The Bulletin, the WHO's International Journal of Public Health, says "high incomes and a taste for fast food and sugary drinks have pushed nationals of the UAE into the obesity club".

Dr Ayoub Al Jawaldeh, Regional Adviser on Nutrition at WHO's Office for the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO), said: "They [Emiratis] enjoy eating at restaurants. They watch at least three hours of TV a day, more in summer. People used to cook at home. Now we have delivery services from any number of restaurants.

"Low levels of exercise and overeating the wrong foods — all this has led to increasing obesity. It starts early in childhood.

"There is no control of the food in the school canteens where they sell fast food and soft drinks. Of course, this is not something linked to the UAE alone. But in Europe and the US, people realise they need to change their diet and lifestyle. There is not that same awareness in this part of the world."

In 2000, WHO reported that 13.5 per cent of the UAE population was diabetic, the second-highest prevalence of the disease in the world; this figure is expected to rise to 19.3 per cent by 2030. The report also said over 50 per cent of men and women in the UAE were overweight or obese.

Al Jawaldeh added: "There is psychology at play in linking foods, for example, hamburgers with soft drinks. We need a worldwide convention to regulate the advertising of food on television when children are most likely to be watching."

At Dubai Women's College, for example, fitness training has become part of the curriculum. Students are assigned two hours of physical activity a week, an hour of theory, plus homework.

"Teenage obesity in this country is out of control," Howard Reed, the college's director, says. "We don't walk or ride bikes, we live in a world surrounded by junk food that is available and easy. And there aren't as many opportunities to exercise in the UAE - everything is oriented around cars."


percentage of diabetic UAE nationals in 2000


projected increase in UAE diabetics by 2030


proportion of overweight men and women in UAE

By Kevin Scott

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