Obesity and the UAE: The Findings of Medical Studies

Over the past two decades, obesity has been a major contributing factor to the dramatic rise in diabetes diagnoses in the UAE. Medical professionals have found a significant link between obesity and insulin resistance which, when coupled with an insulin deficiency, can result in the development of type 2 diabetes.


How is Obesity Defined

In general terms, obesity is defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation which impairs health. This is calculated using the body mass index (BMI), and is a simple calculation of a healthy weight-to-height ratio.

Obesity is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. An overweight BMI is one equal to or greater than 25. If your BMI is greater than 30, then according to accepted medical definitions, you’re at risk of obesity.


Prevalence of Obesity in the UAE

Over the last two decades, medical studies have directly addressed the prevalence of obesity, and associated medical conditions such as diabetes, in the UAE. The prevalence of obesity draws distinct parallels with the surge in industrial development and rapid urbanization of many states in UAE.

Leading UAE medical professionals believe that an enhanced standard of living, people’s general sedentary nature’s, and the climate have significantly contributed to the rise of obesity in the UAE.

In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report on the prevalence of obesity in both men and women in the UAE and found that obesity has increased dramatically in just four short years. They concluded that obesity in the UAE constitutes as a serious health crisis.


Combating Obesity in Dubai


What the Statistics Tell Us

Research conducted by Zurich International Life in 2015 uncovered startling findings of obesity rates across different ages groups in the UAE.

Analysing the BMI of 20,000 UAE residents that applied for life insurance or critical illness cover, Zurich International Life found that 47.5% of UAE residents have a BMI greater than 25, classifying them as overweight or obese. The average BMI in the UAE, calculated using a cross-section of age groups, was discovered to be 25.6. This implies that the average UAE resident is overweight. *

The study also concluded that as people age their BMI rate increases. 35% of those aged between 20-24 years old are categorized as overweight, and, what’s more startling is that, of the 20,000 UAE residents tested between the ages of 60-64 years old, 86% were categorized as overweight or obese. *

Now, it should be noted that this is a single study. However, similar medical studies have been conducted in the last few years with very similar findings. This means that an alarming trend has been uncovered – one that highlights the continued obesity problem the UAE is currently facing.


Obesity and Genetics

Over the last three decades, our understanding of pathogenesis and obesity has greatly improved. Whereas there is still a strong indication that poor diet, lack of education and a sedentary lifestyle contribute significantly to the development of obesity, one’s genetic makeup can also be a primary contributing factor to whether you develop an unhealthy BMI.

The strength of the genetic predisposition was highlighted in studies that compared obesity in identical twins. What studies found is that even when environmental and socioeconomic influences were removed, identical twins still showed a predilection to engage in a lifestyle conducive to developing obesity.

Genome-wide studies have also identified the presence of FTO – a gene specifically associated with obesity, increased BMI and diabetes. This gene has been identified in people, not only in the UAE but, across the globe, leading researchers to believe that one’s genetic makeup can affect the propensity to developing a higher BMI and obesity.

Medical studies have demonstrated that it’s not only environmental factors that have contributed to the rise of obesity across the UAE. Genetics is also a primary reason to explain why people become obese in the UAE.

What cannot be ignored is the sheer number of obese UAE residents. With studies proving that with age comes an increased number of obese patients, it’s paramount that leading medical professionals examine the cause of why one’s health diminishes over time.

However, the wealth of government-led initiatives is evidence that UAE is committed to tackling the problem of obesity head on which bodes well for the long-term health and well-being prosperity of the people of the UAE.



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