x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Abu Dhabi study aims to pinpoint dangers of childhood obesity

The study will not look at the number of obese children in the community, as that is well documented. Instead, it will look at how dangerous, from a medical point of view, obesity in children is.

ABU DHABI // A team at Mafraq Hospital is working on a study to prove there are health risks associated with childhood obesity, and to define those dangers.

Much research has concluded that being overweight can lead to health problems in children, but this study aims to pinpoint just how dangerous it is.

Dr Asma Deeb, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist at Mafraq, said this was especially important for the region, where childhood obesity is rising dramatically.

“There have been many studies in the UAE looking at the prevalence of obesity in schoolchildren,” said Dr Deeb.

“What we wanted to do in Mafraq is to go to the next step to see, or to prove, is this really a problem? Should we panic about this increase in prevalence?

“The plan for the study is not to see numbers of obese children in the community. This is already done by other agencies.

“What we wanted to see is how dangerous, from a medical point of view, this obesity is on the health of children.”

The team’s study will look at the risk of associated diseases, namely insulin resistance, which is related to Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular diseases that could affect the child’s future.

It will also identify children at risk and take preventive measures, and treat those found to have a related disease.

So far 121 children have filled out questionnaires and the hospital hopes this will increase to 300.

They answer questions on how much time they spend watching TV or using electronic devices, the amount of sugary drinks they have, their eating patterns and how much exercise they do.

“On a completely voluntary basis, we record and enrol these patients into the study,” said Dr Deeb.

The research seeks to find out how big an issue obesity is.

“There is no doubt about it in adults, but children are not just small adults,” said Dr Deeb. “You could argue, ‘why are you doing this? Of course an obese child will have a high cholesterol level.’

“But there aren’t really well-structured studies, particularly in this part of the world, that prove the strong association of obesity with other associated diseases.”

The children taking part, who are aged six to 18, are tested for high blood pressure, cholesterol, pre-diabetes and fatty liver disease.

The research is running alongside the hospital’s childhood obesity service, which was launched in September last year.

It consists of checks by paediatric endocrinologists, dietary assessments and advice about leading a healthy lifestyle, with an emphasis on exercise. A child psychologist is also due to join.

Data collection began in January. A range of nationalities are involved, with a plan to compare prevalence of the diseases among them.

“We are hoping eventually to publish our results, to be shared in the international literature,” said Dr Deeb.

“Most of the studies that we see, we see it either in western Europe or Canada or Australia.

“There is not much really from the Arab ethnicity and people keep talking about the Gulf being one of the top places for obesity.”

Screenings of school pupils at ages six, 10 and 14 years old, conducted by Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha), found about 29 per cent to be overweight or obese in the past three years.

ecleland@thenational.ae