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The Impact of Obesity on the Health of Children and Adults in the UAE

Building on from our previous article on childhood obesity in 2018, we return to discover that adults themselves are becoming overweight and obese due to their lifestyle. Obesity is an epidemic in the UAE, and the level is among one of the highest in the world.

A very recent study led by Professor Ashraf Hassan Humaidan Al Zaabi from Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi states a high incidence of cardio-metabolic disorders, such as high triglycerides, obesity, impaired fasting glucose, hypertension, and high cholesterol in the subjects.

In this article by Pacific Prime Dubai, we will examine the results of the latest study, and also look at the causes, and recommend tips to combat obesity in both children and adults.

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What is obesity?

In case you are not aware or need refreshing, obesity is a medical condition that occurs when a person carries excess weight or body fat. Obesity is usually measured by a high body mass index.

What is Body Mass Index (BMI)?

Body mass index (BMI) is a tool that doctors use to assess if a person is at an appropriate weight for their age, sex, and height. The measurement combines height and weight to establish an index, which is then used to classify the adult or child.

BMI, in its technical form, is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his/her height in meters (kg/m2).

It is important to take note that a BMI score is a rough guide because it may not correspond to the same degree of fatness in different individuals.

Adults

For adults, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines overweight and obesity as follows:

  • Overweight is a BMI score that is greater than or equal to 25; and
  • Obesity is a BMI score greater than or equal to 30.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a BMI calculator for adults 20 years and older.

Children aged between 5–19 years old

For children, age is a factor that needs to be considered when determining whether they are overweight or obese.

Overweight and obesity are defined as follows for children aged between 5 – 19 years old:

  • Overweight is BMI-for-age greater than 1 standard deviation above the WHO Growth Reference median; and
  • Obesity is greater than 2 standard deviations above the WHO Growth Reference median.

For children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a BMI calculator for children and teens, ages 2 to 19 years of age.

Causes of obesity

Most individuals will point to poor diet and lack of physical activity, and they are right! But there’s more to them, as they are the ‘by-products’ of the UAE’s history. Since the discovery and commercial exploration of oil in the mid 20th century, the UAE has experienced several significant changes.

The oil boom of the early 1950s had turned a country that had people living mostly a nomadic life herding sheep and cattle, into one of the richest countries in the world. One profound outcome was the change in the lifestyle of individuals.

Due to economic prosperity, globalization of food systems, immigration and urbanism, there have been significant changes to the dietary styles of the population.

Members of the population in the UAE now enjoy the extremely high standards of life with modern settings and surroundings. The evolution of the country has made it into one of the most cosmopolitan havens for ultra-net worth locals and expatriates.

This incredibly fast transformation has introduced many luxuries, such as air-conditioned houses, modern luxury vehicles, and due to the UAE’s economic prosperity, an influx of global cuisines.

Change in diet and sedentary lifestyle

In the past, the diet of the UAE population before the oil boom was mainly of fish, rice, bread, dates, yogurt, homegrown vegetables, and meat from sheep, goats, and camels. However, in the 21st Century, people are more drawn to fast foods, as compared to traditional Arab cuisine.

Young children have access to phones and devices, which means they are either sedentary and not moving for a long time.  According to the National, half of the women and more than 40 percent of men are not getting enough exercise in the UAE.

Overall, the fat-rich fast-food diet for all ages, sedentary lifestyles for children and adults, and harsh climatic conditions are the main causes of obesity. Obesity itself is also responsible for creating severe negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of people, both physically and mentally.

Over 70 percent of Emiratis obese by the age of 29 years

The aforementioned study examined 33,000 Emirati men between the age of 18 and 20 in the UAE and found that half of the subjects studied were overweight or obese by the age of 18. But this statistic rose drastically, so much so, that by the age of 29, only 29 percent of participants were in the normal BMI range.

On top of the results analyzed, 62 percent of men presented at least one of the cardiometabolic risk factors, such as high Basal Metabolic Index (BMI), impaired fasting glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

The male participants who had a high BMI were more likely to exhibit multiple cardiometabolic risk factors.

Overall, almost 70 percent of 29-year-olds were considered overweight or obese, which is staggering.

We will look at some of the health impacts caused by obesity below.

Health impacts of obesity

Individuals with severe obesity are likely to develop serious health diseases, that may lower their quality of health. Below are diseases that are likely to arise due to obesity.

Diabetes

Obesity is directly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. People with obesity or severe obesity have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 80-85 percent.

Type 2 diabetes can lead to:

  • Amputations
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Blindness
  • Kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Circulatory and nerve defects
  • Infections
  • Impotence

A few points to note:

  • Hypertension is another term for high blood pressure.
  • Normal blood pressure is 120 over 80 mm of mercury (mmHg), whereas hypertension is higher than 130 over 80 mmHg. You can ask your GP to check your blood pressure to help monitor your health.
  • Direct causes of high blood pressure include acute stress, but it can happen on its own, or it can result from an underlying condition, such as kidney disease.
  • Unmanaged hypertension and stress can also lead to a fatal heart attack, stroke, and other significant health problems, like coronary heart disease (CHD) and congestive heart failure (CHF), to name the least.

Heart disease

According to the annual 2019 worldwide 360 Well-being Survey that was conducted by Cigna Corporation, heart disease and blood pressure in the UAE continues to be on the rise.

Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure that can lead to severe complications such as heart disease.

A few points to note:

  • Normal blood pressure is 120 over 80 mm of mercury (mmHg), whereas hypertension is higher than 130 over 80 mmHg. You can ask your GP to check your blood pressure to help monitor your health.
  • Direct causes of high blood pressure include acute stress, but it can happen on its own, or it can result from an underlying condition, such as kidney disease.
  • Unmanaged hypertension and stress can also lead to a fatal heart attack, stroke, and other significant health problems, like coronary heart disease (CHD) and congestive heart failure (CHF), to name the least.

Obesity increases your risk of heart failure, and in severe cases of obesity, is associated with irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias). These arrhythmias when experienced can increase the risk of cardiac arrest.

Cancer

According to an infographic by the National Cancer Institute, as BMI increases, so does the risk of cancer and death from cancer. These cancers include:

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Postmenopausal breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Multiple myelomas
  • And many more

It is regarded that for people with severe obesity, the death rate increases for all types of cancer.

How to address obesity

The answer to this question is very straightforward – tackle the problem at its root cause. The aim should be for young children but also teenagers, adolescents, parents, and parents-to-be change their overall lifestyle.

To combat the ill effects of obesity, the following tips should be noted.

Tips for combating obesity

  • Mothers-to-be should monitor their BMI and exercise regularly to shed weight and abstain from unhealthy diets.
  • Portion control is key. This means serving small portions of food to children, which prevents them from overeating. Cooking homemade food with highly nutritious content also helps.
  • Screen time on devices should be reduced for children so that they have more time to participate in social activities. Active sports and social community events are effective in combating obesity.

Secure health insurance before obesity affects your health

Having written about the detrimental effects of obesity, it is imperative to consider the following questions:

  • Have you considered comprehensive health insurance?
  • How would you mitigate the costs of dealing with a health problem as a result of being overweight and obese?

By searching for the best private health insurance through Pacific Prime Dubai, you will be in touch with expert consultants that can help you compare health insurance plans in the UAE.

Not only can we discuss and provide impartial advice, but we can tailor your needs by looking at plans from our partnered global insurers.

Our team is on hand to help discuss any concerns relating to pre-existing conditions and also assess plans for the whole family so you can rest assured.

For more information and articles like this one, you can visit our blog page to engage more with our materials. Also, we have the latest trends and updates in our guides and reports based on the current insurance landscape.

Contact the team to secure health insurance today!

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Jimmy

Content Creator at Pacific Prime Dubai
Jimmy is a content writer who helps simplify insurance for readers interested in international private medical insurance. He is on a mission in Thailand to support locals, expatriates, and businesses by bring the latest news and updates to his Pacific Prime blog articles.

His expert view and wealth of knowledge on insurance can also be found in his blogs for China, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Jimmy