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30 May 2023

High prevalence of obesity, diabetes in UAE's young men: Study

By Wam

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.

The Arab 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. 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 the study subjects were overweight or obese at age 18, and this rose drastically so that by the age of 29 only 29 percent were in the normal BMI range. There was also a high prevalence of diabetes (4.7 percent) and 41 percent of subjects had impaired fasting blood glucose – an indicator for prediabetes.

Overall, 62 percent 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.

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 less than two percent for diabetes, less than 15 percent for obesity and fewer than eight percent for hypertension.

The most recent study from the United States found the prevalence of diabetes in individuals aged between 20 and 44 was 3.3 percent. Overall, the UAE ranked highest in diabetes (4.7 percent) and hypertension, and came in a 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 percent of study subjects were in the normal BMI range, but this drastically decreased to only 29 percent 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 Alzaabi, who is Head of Respiratory Division, Zayed Military Hospital.

"We must look at these critical 10 years closely and evaluate ways we can support almost 70 percent 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 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.