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Denial of unhealthy habits helps no one

Denial would be one way to describe Emiratis' disconnect between unhealthy actions and deadly consequences.

Not being sick is not the same as being healthy. The best medical professionals and technology can do wonders to keep a person alive; a little common sense can keep us from getting sick in the first place.

As The National reports today, nearly 90 per cent of Emiratis and Arab expatriates surveyed in a recent Abu Dhabi Gallup poll claimed to be "satisfied with their health". This despite the fact that rates of obesity, diabetes and other preventable disease in the UAE are among the highest in the world.

Denial might be one way to describe the disconnect between unhealthy actions and consequences. "The major killers are actually silent," says Dr Ahmed Al Jebawi, a consultant endocrinologist at the Dubai Diabetes Centre. "So feeling healthy is good but it's not enough."

For a nation with good access to health care, there are too many avoidable conditions: as many as one in five Emiratis suffers from diabetes due to poor diet; a quarter of teenage boys use tobacco daily; and nearly a third of people surveyed are plagued by avoidable heart conditions.

Education can help reverse these trends. Schools in the UAE have done much to reinforce concepts of healthy living, limiting students' intake of sugary drinks and promoting less sedentary lifestyles.

But parents must also offer guidance if their children are to make smart lifestyle decisions. Sadly, parents' collective track record on this front has not been exemplary. Too often the job of parenting is farmed out to nannies, siblings or others with less at stake.

Adults must also lead by example, taking their own health and well-being seriously. While four-fifths of the 5,000 people polled by Gallup said they were satisfied with the availability of quality health care in this country, only 14 per cent said they self-report their health problems. When health care is free or cheap, there is no excuse for putting off a visit to the doctor. Indeed, preventive care saves government money in the long run.

There is nothing wrong per se about a positive outlook. As the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention noted, an upbeat mental state can have real health benefits, from improved immune functioning to increased longevity.

But is must be rooted in reality. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or downing a bucket of fried chicken, no matter how you feels about yourself afterwards, is a recipe for more than a sour stomach.

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