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Spike in obesity rates costs the UAE almost US$12 billion a year

Article-Spike in obesity rates costs the UAE almost US$12 billion a year

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Armed with new data, the UAE is taking decisive steps to bring obesity epidemic under control.

On World Obesity Day 2024, a new report by the World Obesity Federation lays bare how serious the obesity challenge is in UAE, not only in terms of its toll on the health of affected children and adults but also the enormous impact on the nation’s economy, now and in the coming years. Despite its standing as a beacon of global leadership in many health initiatives, from polio eradication to neglected tropical diseases and cervical cancer prevention strategies; the nation is grappling with a growing obesity crisis that, without significantly scaled-up efforts, will become ever more serious in the coming years.    

The launch of the UAE national briefing on obesity coincides with the launch of the World Obesity Atlas, which the World Obesity Federation issues every year. The 2024 Atlas underscores the adverse consequences of economic development on obesity trends.    

Recent data reveals that spiking obesity rates are diverting nearly US$12 billion annually from the UAE’s economy. In response, there are calls for ramped-up commitments and serious action to avert further repercussions.

“The cost of business as usual with obesity, with fragmented and siloed efforts here as in most countries, means the UAE is expected to see a continued rise in the numbers of people living with obesity and shocking increases in the economic impact of disability and death associated with the disease. The UAE has made a start and armed with this new data; it is time to take decisive steps to turn the tide on the obesity epidemic. This data serves as a clear wake-up call for policymakers to implement new strategies aimed at reducing obesity and its associated economic burdens,” said Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation.

UAE obesity day

According to projections, the economic impact of obesity in the UAE is on track to rise to almost 5 per cent of the GDP by 2035, underlining the urgent need for national and local public health initiatives to alter the current trajectory.

Despite laudable efforts in the UAE to address overweight and obesity in recent years, from making women’s fitness options accessible to all to the implementation of an excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and a focus on food standards in schools, much more needs to be done. But with projections that more than 6.5 million adults in the UAE will be living with overweight or obesity by 2035 — comprising more than 4.5 million men — the time for action is now.

The economic impact of obesity in the UAE extends way beyond healthcare costs, encompassing indirect expenses such as absenteeism, presenteeism and premature mortality, which have a significant impact on the economy. For example, in 2019, these factors collectively amounted to US$10.3 billion, a figure expected to rise to US$30.7 billion by 2035 if current trends persist. Healthcare expenditure associated with overweight, and obesity is also poised to jump from US$1.4 billion in 2019 to US$1.9 billion by 2035, underscoring the need for immediate action to mitigate this growing health and socio-economic crisis.

“Some countries in the MENA region have made significant strides to treat and manage obesity. The UAE, for example, has put in place standards of care for obesity management since 2008. However, as a region with some of the highest rates of obesity, we have initiated a working group — soon to become a registered society — with the support of the World Obesity Federation to produce unified guidelines, supporting education and raising awareness of obesity and how best to tackle it,” said endocrinologist Dr. Sara Suliman. “The main barriers to obesity management include recognition of obesity as a disease, education of healthcare professionals as well as the affected individuals and their families, clear management guidelines and support from all sectors involved in the prevention and management of obesity.”      

As the UAE strives to maintain its position as a global leader and innovator in healthcare, addressing the obesity epidemic is paramount for individuals, the health system and the economy. By implementing proactive measures today, the nation can safeguard the health and well-being of its citizens while ensuring sustainable economic growth for the future.

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