Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
A nutritionist says food labels need improvement to give people more choice.
Ryan Carter Staff
A nutritionist says food labels need improvement to give people more choice.

Consumers more health conscious

A greater awareness of healthy eating is changing the shopping habits of consumers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

DUBAI // A greater awareness of healthy eating is changing the shopping habits of consumers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. They say they are now more health-conscious when they buy, taking more care to read nutrition labels and seeking out products with health benefits, according to a new survey. They also want food labelling to be much clearer.

Based on 2,000 consumer interviews, split equally between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the study by the company Datamonitor found that 79 per cent of those surveyed said they placed greater importance on their health than they did two years ago. This is higher than the 75 per cent average of respondents to a similar survey across 17 other countries, including the US, the UK, Russia, Japan and India, said Richard Adams, a Datamonitor analyst and author of the report.

One contributing factor is the serious medical issues that have become more common in the UAE, such as obesity, he said. "There have been a number of serious health issues which have come about in the last few years. "The prevalence of diabetes is quite high; hypertension, cardiovascular disease, these are all seriously prevalent in the UAE." Seventy-three per cent of UAE residents and 57 per cent of Saudi consumers say they are consciously trying to eat healthily most or all of the time, Mr Adams said. Across the other 17 countries Datamonitor surveyed, 61 per cent said they were making a conscious effort to do so.

However, this did not necessarily mean residents in the UAE and Saudi Arabia were eating more healthily, he said. "There is a huge gap between intentions and actions. "They try to eat healthily and consume a small amount of healthy products, and in their minds are eating healthy that day, but if you break down what they consume every day, they're not." Hala Abu-Taha, a nutritionist in Dubai, said she has seen a marked difference in people's attitudes to food and diets in the past year.

Families and individuals now have a better understanding of healthy eating and how to adopt a healthy lifestyle. "People, particularly UAE nationals, used to think that a diet was to 100 per cent eliminate fat and sugar. Nowadays patients are realising that it is not about starvation, it means you take a bit of everything in moderation." The survey also found UAE and Saudi Arabian shoppers looking more closely at product labels, 61 and 56 per cent of them, respectively, saying they use nutritional information written on product packages to make buying decisions all or most of the time.

Globally, just 44 per cent of respondents said they based their food and drink purchases on nutritional labels, said Mr Adams. However, food manufacturers and retailers need to present this information more clearly, he said. Forty-two per cent of UAE respondents and 46 per cent of Saudi consumers found the listed health-related information confusing, compared with 38 per cent globally. "If you can make consumers at a glance clearly see 'this is relatively good for me', these sorts of programmes help consumers understand very quickly the implications of product choices," he said. "And if you can communicate this, customers are much more likely at the point of sale to purchase a product."

Mrs Abu-Taha agreed with the survey results showing people in the UAE are looking more closely at nutritional values. Diseases related to obesity and other metabolic syndromes were now showing up in almost every family at some point, she said, referring to recent figures that showed almost 36 per cent of people in the UAE had diabetes. "Families are much more aware now and they want to change things," she said. "There have been some huge campaigns about healthy eating so people are listening more."

She agreed that food labels needed to be improved to give people more information and choice about what they eat. "A system like the 'traffic lights' showing levels of fat and salt and things would be very helpful here, especially as people want to know more." The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi has previously suggested it may introduce food labels but has not responded to repeated requests for more information. As yet there is no single policy governing how nutritional information should be displayed on foodstuffs.

aligaya@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Mitya Underwood

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Shah Rukh Khan performs at the IPL Gala dinner to open IPL VII at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi.

In pictures: Shah Rukh Khan stars at IPL Gala dinner in Abu Dhabi

The superstar entertainer Shah Rukh Khan on stage last night at a gala dinner to launch the Indian Premier League cricket tournament.

No words can describe this April 17, your captions will

Have a catchy caption for this picture. Share it with us and we might publish it and reward you.

 When this 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s in New York on June 17, it is expected to attract a world record bid for a single stamp of up to $20 million (Dh73.4m). Courtesy Sotheby’s

Rare 1856 stamp up for auction at Sotheby’s

This is one of the world’s rarest stamps and when it goes up for auction in June it should fetch $20million. Its history since it was issued in 1856 is fascinating – and includes one murderous chapter, as Jonathan Gornall reports

 The Retreat at the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa will screen IPL games on request. Lee Hoagland / The National

Top five places to catch an IPL game in the UAE

Enjoy all the 20/20 cricket action at a sports lounge near you – whether in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain or Dubai

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 Barcelona’s Lionel Messi plays with a rugby ball during a training session at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training camp, near Barcelona in Sant Joan Despi, April 15, 2014. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino

In pictures: Barca play a little rugby before Copa del rey final

Barcelona and Real Madrid will play in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday night but the day before the match, Braca players played a little rugby during a training session at Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training camp, in Sant Joan Despi, Spain. Barca meet Real Madrid on Wednesday at 11.30pm (UAE time) and the match will be on BeIn Sports.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National