ABU DHABI // Thousands of residents gathered on Yas Island yesterday to walk up to five kilometres and raise awareness of diabetes.
Walkers chose between 3km and 5km circuits as part of The Walk 2012, which was organised by the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre and the insurer Daman.
While groups of young children rode go-karts waiting for the walk to start, a large crowd of adults gathered excitedly in the gaming area.
Music played as participants signed a board at the entrance of the venue with different messages about diabetes and the walk.
"I did the diabetic run in Dubai last year," said Rolande Vangreuning, from South Africa. "I tried the cycling, running and walking because it's important to get active and keep going."
Ms Vangreuning said she was also walking for her diabetic friend. "She has to take injections all the time. It's a massive struggle for her to get her insulin levels right."
With her sister, Ceanlia Verneulen, Ms Vangreunin planned to walk 5km. "It's my first time taking part in this," said Ms Verneulen. "I want be healthy and this is a great way of doing it."
UAE residents are receiving a diagnosis of diabetes between 11 and 19 years earlier than the worldwide average, the International Diabetic Federation said this week.
The highest population of diabetics is in the 40 to 44-year-old range, compared with the global average of 55 to 59.
A group of 150 students and staff from the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi were enthusiastic about their walk.
"This is one of the activities in our nutrition programme," said Ahmad Hamood, the institute's head of athletics. "To reach a healthy walk, you must walk 10,000 steps."
Mr Hamood's group of 20-year-old engineering students were keen to walk the farthest possible.
"I'm going to try 1km and see how it goes," said Saif Al Ktebi, an Emirati student. His Jordanian classmate, Issam Abu Zayed, said he aimed to walk at least three.
For Filipino friends Glenn Mendoza and Eileen Eichosa, the diabetes walk was their first.
"This type of charity work is more important than other things we can do over the weekend," said Mr Mendoza. "I have a friend who's diabetic. I fully understand the condition and I'm doing this for all of them."
Dubai resident Amir Haddad, from Syria, said although the walk was his first, he would take part in more in the future.
"I want to help people with diabetes as much as I can so I am walking 3km today," he said.
Only 4,000 people participated in the walk when it started six years ago, but organisers said they expected 17,000 to take part this year. The two length-circuit was introduced yesterday.
"We wanted everybody to be able to join us, those elderly and the young ones," said Carol Sansour, the diabetes centre's campaign director of Diabetes-Knowledge-Action.
"It's also a general message to the public that exercise is very important to keep healthy and enjoy a better life."
Other activities at the Yas Marina Circuit venue included a performance by the Dubai Drums during the walk, yoga, football, darts, go-karts and a farmers' market.