x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Diet plea to combat heart disease

Increasing numbers of people in the Gulf will develop heart disease unless they adopt healthier diets and lifestyles, doctors warn.

Increasing numbers of people in the Gulf will develop heart disease unless they adopt healthier diets and lifestyles, doctors have warned. Some fear the rates of coronary illness could double by 2020 if no action is taken. The health alert, coupled with a call for campaigns to increase awareness of the problem, is the key message of a conference in Dubai this week.

The region already has high rates of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes and hypertension. Heart disease is the Gulf's biggest killer. Last November, the director general of the Sharjah medical zone, Sheikh Mohammed bin Saqr Al Qassimi, said the condition was responsible for up to 51 per cent of deaths in the UAE, mirroring other Gulf states such as Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Today experts are gathering in Dubai Festival City for the start of the three-day Gulf Heart Association Conference to discuss ways of improving prevention and treatment. Dr Nooshin Bazargani, a cardiologist at Dubai Hospital and chairwoman of the conference, said it was very difficult to establish exactly how many people in the Gulf had heart disease as there were no epidemiological studies. Diabetes and smoking are both risk factors, and these are prevalent in the region. One in five people in the UAE have diabetes and a study in 2006 found 13.7 per cent of children in the Gulf were obese.

"We need these studies," Dr Bazargani said. "There are samples but no figures as accurate as we would like them to be." A six-month study in 2007 of more than 6,000 patients by the Gulf Registry for Acute Coronary Events showed the average age of heart patients was 56 - about 10 years younger than in Europe and the US. Of these patients, half had a history of hypertension, 41 per cent were smokers and 41 per cent had diabetes. Men also accounted for 76 per cent of the total.

The World Health Organisation says at least 80 per cent of premature deaths from heart disease and strokes could be prevented by the adoption of a healthy diet, regular exercise and giving up smoking. Dr Hajar al Binali, president of the association, said Gulf countries should follow some of the examples set by western countries to encourage healthier lifestyles. "The disease process is similar but our patients are affected at a younger age. There is an increasing need for campaigns to educate the public about risk factors and lifestyle changes as awareness is lower than in the West."

The Federal National Council recently approved a draft law banning smoking in public places and forbidding tobacco advertising. munderwood@thenational.ae