x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Good life has a downside for the UAE's youth

A new survey shows that Arabs prefer to live in the UAE. Considering the shared culture and values, not to mention geography, it is not surprising that many young Arab nationals would express a preference to live here.

The Arab Youth Survey released last week showed that the UAE is perceived as the best country in the world for an Arab youngster to live, better even than France and the United States. In the same study, by Asda'a Burson-Marsteller, Arab youth reported a sense of optimism for their future, and said the UAE was the best place to realise their goals.

Considering the shared culture and values, not to mention geography, it is not surprising that many young Arab nationals would express a preference to live here. In a region suffering political and economic instability, the UAE is a beacon of success.

But wealth and opportunity do have downsides. And as The National reports today, young men and women often seem unable to differentiate the trappings of success with healthy lifestyle choices that lead to a productive, long life.

A study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in the United States, reports that the UAE ranks towards the bottom for life expectancy and highest in death rates among economically similar countries. Among the top "disease burdens" are depression, road injury, heart disease, diabetes and drug use.

The American researchers did not make causal links to these poor health statistics. But most of the top illness and causes of death are directly related to lifestyle choice. In other words, they are preventable. So while young people understandably prefer the opportunities the UAE affords, it is also clear that the good life can be a liability.

Consider reckless driving. Road accidents are among the top cause of early deaths in the UAE. Why? Because irresponsible driving is so prevalent: there were 6,454 traffic accidents last year, 628 road deaths and 7,586 injuries. In Abu Dhabi alone, one person is killed every 26 hours from traffic accidents. Most are under 35.

Dangerous driving is not the only health issue researchers discovered. Especially for young people, poor diets and a lack of exercise - again, trappings of a sedentary, affluent lifestyle - lead to diabetes and depression, and contribute to cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organisation reports that 67 per cent of men in the UAE and 72 per cent of women are either overweight or obese.

In the UAE, lifestyles are changing as rapidly as the country. And for most of us, young and old, life is good. But the price of opportunity should not be our health.