Researchers Have Issued a Call for Action to UAE Rise in Obesity

Often the words eating and disorder together summon concerns of Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia. Warning signs include inexplicable weight loss, changing eating patterns, excessive exercise, purging following food intake and the use of diet pills, laxatives or diuretics. In UAE, however, more than 66 percent of men and 60 percent of women are suffering what has increasingly become yet another public health issue—obesity, according to a 2013 systematic analysis. It is expected that by the end of 2015, 2.3 billion UAE citizens will be overweight and another 700 will become obese. International researchers have issued a call for action to the region.

Obesity happens when one retains an abnormal accumulation of fat, defined objectively as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. According to The Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 report released in May—based on the global, regional, and national prevalence of obesity in children and adults from 1980 to 2013—in 2010, overweight and obesity were estimated to cause 3.4 million deaths, 3.9 percent of years of life lost and 3.8 percent of disability-adjusted life-years worldwide. From 1980 to 2013, the prevalence of both combined rose by 27.5 percent for adults and 47.1 percent for children.

Commonly associated with obesity, binge-eating disorders among UAE adolescents are all-too-often left undiagnosed and thus untreated; ensuing medical complications have the potential to be chronic and irreversible, experts warn.

Such complications for a range of eating disorders include electrolyte imbalance, the delay or arrest of puberty, stunted growth, slow heart rates, low blood pressure, osteoporosis and effects on the menstrual cycle as they are often linked to both depression and anxiety. For obesity, particularly, the risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer are severely increased. Life expectancy is impacted, as well, as eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among all mental health disorders, most often due to the aforementioned medical complications that quickly escalate, and suicide.

Credit: Danesh Mohiuddin/ Xpress.

Credit: Danesh Mohiuddin/ Xpress.

According to the report released in May, obesity is the top cause of lower disability-adjusted life years in UAE, which analysts use to measure the number of years lost because of ill health, disability or early death.

In the same report, the UAE ranked higher than the regional averages for obesity rates in males younger than 20, men aged 20 or older and girls and women younger than 20. Its rankings were, however, lower than the regional averages for women aged 20 or older. Essentially, the UAE is more or less on a par with developed nations, such as the United States.

Binge-eating is thus a rising public concern in UAE, which has one of the world’s highest obesity rates in adolescents.No national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years. This is primarily due to familial, biological, social and cultural factors, according to Dr. Veena Luthra, Consultant Psychiatrist of the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi. Genetics increase the risk of eating disorders by 10 times in first-degree relatives, he said in an interview.

Dr. Luthra will hold a seminar on the psychological and physical dangers of eating disorders in UAE adolescents at the Pediatrics Conference on October 18-20, 2014 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, during the Arab Health Recruitment & Training Fair. The event will host 18 CME accredited conferences in the healthcare fields of Bioengineering, Cardiology, Surgery, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Imaging and Radiology, Nursing, Pediatrics, Pharmacology, Laboratory Management, Diabetes, Gastroenterology, Sports Medicine, Dermatology, Human Resources and Recruitment.