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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

On the economic burden of poor health 

Physical and mental illnesses could affect the economy in the long run 

While obesity is a growing epidemic globally, obesity rates among youth in the UAE are three times higher than average. Getty Images / AFP
While obesity is a growing epidemic globally, obesity rates among youth in the UAE are three times higher than average. Getty Images / AFP

The sheer number of surveys, studies and statistics on health and healthcare that are now available to us reveal a deepening crisis when it comes to obesity and mental illness. Their repercussions on society, where the cost of health care on individuals, companies and governments seems to be growing exponentially, will be profound.

We are now only a couple of weeks away from the introduction of excise tax on fizzy, sugary drinks and tobacco, which is being introduced, in part, to help wean us off our worst habits. New data on the nation's health revealed that death from heart disease topped the list of killers, while diabetes claims more and more victims by the day. As The National reported, the rise in lifestyle conditions will see healthcare spending in the country double by 2040, although it is also worth mentioning that some of those spending increases are related to the provision of better healthcare services and an overall increase in population.

According to the latest Global Burden of Disease study, healthcare expenditure in the UAE could reach up to $47.5 billion as obesity levels rise.

While GCC countries rank in the top 15 for obesity, healthcare systems will need to develop strategies to deliver better health care as a greater need for research and development arises, companies will need to put more efforts in their social responsibility initiatives and schools will have to push for greater awareness and physical activity.

Several schools in the UAE have already rolled out boot camps and recruited specialists to ensure their students maintain good fitness levels. In its journey towards a diversified economy, the UAE has also ensured a better healthcare system is developed based on leading international practices. A healthy population is a productive population, and as these pages have often advocated, changing mindsets begins with changing habits and breaking taboos.

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