The UAE’s rapid economic growth over the last half-century has been accompanied by a surge in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Both public and private organizations are now stepping up to tackle this health and economic burden with expanded access to cutting-edge treatments, a greater focus on education and preventive measures, and higher taxation rates on sugary drinks and tobacco.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a federal state composed of seven emirates, has a population of more than eight million. The country’s average life expectancy of 76 years has increased dramatically from the 1960 average of 52 years. Over the same time period, the UAE has developed into one of the world’s wealthiest and most modern countries, its success accompanied by the rise in noncommunicable diseases.
Noncommunicable diseases account for 76 percent of deaths in the UAE, and in recent years the country has seen a rapid increase in diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Statistics show that diabetes is not only restricted to highly developed countries, but is now becoming a global epidemic. Saudi Arabia has the highest rate among emerging markets, with diabetes affecting more than 20 percent of the population. In the UAE, 2017 data from the International Diabetes Federation revealed that more than 17 percent of the population between the ages of 20 and 79 have type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the prevalence of diabetes in the UAE is rising at a faster rate than both the surrounding region and the rest of the world due to rapid economic growth, sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets. The number of people with diabetes is expected to double to 2.2 million by 2040. (Source: ICLDC)
Obesity is hitting the UAE hardest of countries recently analysed by the World Health Organization, and its obesity rates are double the global average, with up to 37 percent of adults having a body mass index of more than 30, the threshold for being considered obese. A study conducted by Zayed Military Hospital found that an alarming 70 percent of Emirati men under age 29 were considered overweight or obese. (Source: Gulf News) Many experts suggest that sedentary lifestyles and high-calorie processed foods are to blame for the spike in obesity.
On the 23rd October 2019 in Dubai, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) signed an agreement with Novo Nordisk Gulf for a collaboration aiming to facilitate innovation in obesity treatment, digitalise patient health through smart apps, sponsor research and training, and organise awareness campaigns. MOHAP has set the aggressive goal of expanding innovation in line with international protocols to fight obesity and has already launched projects in the field, including opening an electronic care unit for bariatric surgery patients, conducting clinical research, and establishing a database to follow up on bariatric surgery patients. In addition, MOHAP has developed excellence centres for obesity treatment which include the introduction of tailored diets, and also launched the so-called “MA’KOM for Active Life” project at its headquarters, in which adults are encouraged to engage in physical activity each day. (Source: Zawya)
Other agencies are also stepping forward to combat noncommunicable diseases. Recently the Dubai Health Authority launched what it calls a ‘Lifestyle Clinic’ to provide preventive, community-based healthcare services which will include family medicine, dietary services, and psychological care for people at risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, with the aim of changing unhealthy behaviours.
Furthermore, the country’s health system has implemented routine diabetes screening in primary care centres, and the government has taken the initiative to raise taxes on cigarettes and sugar-sweetened beverages, the revenues then being invested in expanding access to screening and treatment.