Abu Dhabi – New findings published this week reveal a high prevalence of cardiometabolic risk factors such as obesity and diabetes in men under 30 in the United Arab Emirates. One of the largest UAE population studies investigating over 33,000 Emirati men between the ages of 18 and 29 led by Professor Ashraf Hasan Humaidan Alzaabi from Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi, found elevated levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, impaired fasting glucose and hypertension.1

The Arabic peninsula is known to have one of the highest prevalence rates of diabetes and obesity worldwide according to international reports, and rates are continuing to rise.2,3 It is thought these increases in prevalence have developed due to unhealthy dietary changes and sedentary lifestyles common to the region, although there are possible hereditary factors that could influence outcomes. 

Results from this cross-sectional analysis study of male nationals demonstrated half of study subjects were overweight or obese at age 18, and this rose drastically so that by the age of 29 only 29% were in the normal BMI range. There was also a high prevalence of diabetes (4.7%) and 41% of subjects had impaired fasting blood glucose – an indicator for prediabetes. Overall, 62% of study subjects presented at least one cardiometabolic risk factor such as high BMI, glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

UAE patients who had a high BMI were more likely to present multiple cardiometabolic risk factors and to have hypertension. Alarmingly, around one in four subjects presented with more than one cardiometabolic risk factor. These trends are not limited to nationals, as other recent studies have reported similarly high rates of obesity and diabetes amongst expatriates residing in the UAE.4

When comparing with similar global population studies, the prevalence rates observed in the UAE were twofold higher than those seen in Western Europe which reported <2% for diabetes, <15% for obesity and <8% for hypertension.5,6 Similarly, the most recent study from the United States found the prevalence of diabetes in individuals aged between 20 and 44 was 3.3%.7 Overall, the UAE ranked highest in diabetes (4.7%) and hypertension, and came in very close second to the USA for obesity.

 “Our findings underline the serious nature of cardiometabolic risk factors and associated disease in this region. At age 18, 42% of study subjects were in the normal BMI range, but this drastically decreased to only 29% at age 29. These shocking figures make us ask the difficult question of what happens during this critical timeframe to make the majority of young UAE men overweight or obese” said study lead Professor Ashraf Hasan Humaidan Alzaabi, Head of Respiratory Division, Zayed Military Hospital.

“We must look at these critical 10 years closely and evaluate ways we can support almost 70% of 29-year olds who are overweight or obese. In order for health authorities to meet the challenges associated with the increase in cardiometabolic risk factors in the UAE, continued surveillance and awareness of these conditions is needed. Public health initiatives are required to address these prevalence levels and anticipate future burden for which these men are at risk. This must be tackled with a multidisciplinary approach through national public health initiatives, factoring in health education, access to sports facilities, and initiatives to encourage healthy eating” emphasised Dr Alzaabi.

The research team also included Professor Juma Al-Kaabi from Department of Internal Medicine, United Arab Emirates University Al-Ain, Professor Fatma Al-Maskari from the Institute of Public Health and Zayed Center for Health Sciences UAE University, Dr Ahmed Faisal Farhood from Zayed Military Hospital and Dr Luai A Ahmed from the Institute of Public Health UAE University.  

For the full study please visit the following link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/edm2.81    

1 Al-Zaabi A et al. Prevalence of diabetes and cardiometabolic risk factors in young men in the united arab emirates: a cross-sectional national survey. Endocrinol Diab Metab. 2019;00:e00081. https://doi.org/10.1002/edm2.81

2 International Diabetes Foundation. IDF Diabetes ATlas, 8th Edition. Brussels: IDF, 2017

3 Meo SA, Usmani AM, Qalbani E. Prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the Arab world: impact of GDP and energy consumption. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2017;21:1303-12. [published Online First: 2017/04/08]

4 Sulaiman N, Elbadawi S, Hussein A, et al. Prevalence of overweight and obesity in United Arab Emirates Expatriates: the UAE National Diabetes and Lifestyle Study. Diabetol Metab Syndr 2017;9:88

5 Tamayo T et al. (2016) The Prevalence and Incidence of Diabetes in Germany. Dtsch Arztebl Int 113:177-82. Epub 2016/04/28. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2016.0177  PMID: 27118665.

6 NHS Digital. Health Survey for England, 2015: Trend tables London: National Health Service, 2016.

7 Caspard H, Jabbour S, Hammar N, et al. Recent trends in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and the association with abdominal obesity lead to growing health disparities in the USA: An analysis of the NHANES surveys from 1999 to 2014. Diabetes Obes Metab 2017

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