Nearly 7 in 10 young Emirati men overweight, obese: Study
The region is known to have one of the highest prevalence rates of diabetes and obesity worldwide.- Alamy Image
Abu Dhabi - The data obtained in this study paint a worrying picture of the state of health of young Emirati men.
Thousands of young Emirati men are already overweight or obese at age 18, according to a new study. It said obesity rose so drastically that by the age of 29, only 29 per cent were in the normal body mass index (BMI) range.
Findings from a study of over 33,000 young men - conducted between May 2015 and February 2017 - showed the prevalence of cardiometabolic risk factor in men aged between 18 and 29 years.
The research, which was one of the largest UAE population studies, found elevated levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, impaired fasting glucose, and hypertension.
"The data obtained in this study paint a worrying picture of the state of health of young Emirati men. Over one in four of them are obese, and this is likely to contribute towards the emergence of diabetes and hypertension in these individuals," said the lead author of the study, professor Ashraf Hasan Humaidan Alzaabi of the Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
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 study subjects presented at least one cardiometabolic risk factor such as high BMI, glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure.
The region 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.
There are over one million people living with diabetes in the UAE, placing the country 15th worldwide for age-adjusted comparative prevalence.
Increases in prevalence have developed due to unhealthy dietary changes and sedentary lifestyles, although there are possible hereditary factors that could influence outcomes, said doctors.
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 among expatriates residing in the UAE.
When comparing with similar global population studies, the prevalence rates observed in the UAE were two-fold higher than those seen in Western Europe, which reported less than two per cent for diabetes, less than 15 per cent for obesity and less than eight per cent for hypertension.
Similarly, the most recent study from the US found that the prevalence of diabetes in individuals aged between 20 and 44 was 3.3 per cent.
Overall, the UAE ranked highest in diabetes (4.7 per cent) and hypertension, and came in very close second to the US for obesity.
"Our findings underline the serious nature of cardiometabolic risk factors and associated disease in this region. At age 18, 42 per cent of study subjects 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 timeframe to make the majority of young UAE men overweight or obese," said professor Alzaabi, who is also the head of respiratory division at the Zayed Military Hospital.
"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," he said.
For health authorities to meet the challenges associated with the increase in cardiometabolic risk factors in the country, continued surveillance and stronger awareness drives are necessary, the professor added.
"Public health initiatives are required to address these prevalence levels and anticipate the 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," said Alzaabi.
The research team also included Professor Juma Al Kaabi from the Department of Internal Medicine of the United Arab Emirates University Al Ain; Professor Fatma Al Maskari from the Institute of Public Health and Zayed Centre 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.