A survey shows 89 per cent believe they are healthy, but medical statistics prove otherwise.
Health warning over silent killers
ABU DHABI // Almost nine in 10 Emiratis and Arab expatriates are happy with their health, a study has revealed.
A two-year survey of more than 5,000 adults by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre found that 89 per cent felt they were in fine fettle.
But medical experts say residents should be concerned about their physical condition.
The top threats - heart disease and diabetes - rarely cause pain while they harm the body, so people remain unaware, said Dr Ahmed Al Jebawi, a consultant endocrinologist at the Dubai Diabetes Centre.
"The major killers are actually silent," he added. "So feeling healthy is good but it's not enough.
"When the disease is painless but it's damaging your system continuously, you need to know about it."
The UAE has the second highest prevalence of diabetes worldwide, after the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, according to the International Diabetes Foundation.
But half of diabetes sufferers do not even know they have the condition, said Dr Al Jebawi.
Cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death, according to the Health Authority Abu Dhabi. Obesity levels are also on the rise. A study conducted last year as part of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Diabetes Congress found that nearly a third of the Emirati population is overweight - and a third of those are also clinically obese.
The problems have increased in the last few decades as life in the Emirates became much more sedentary and diets have changed.
"The economy suddenly jumped over the past 20 to 30 years," Dr Al Jebawi said.
"People were trying to run, to get their food, they used to exercise more and eat less. Now it's the opposite."
Not enough people realise they should visit a doctor regularly, said Fatima Al Marzooqi, an educator at the Ministry of Health.
"Maybe they are not aware of the health risks they have," she added.
"Maybe they are obese but they think they are just mildly overweight and are fine.
"The problem is that we do not do regular check-ups, so a lot of people are unaware of the health problems they might have."
Most people with weight problems know they are putting their health at risk, according to Ms Al Marzooqi.
But a portion of those carrying extra weight do not want to face facts.
"In some cases, denial is true," said Ms Al Marzooqi. "But usually people who are obese - very obese - know they are obese.
"They know they are carrying extra weight but they ignore the problem and ignore doing anything about it.
"It's difficult. In our culture, we have a health problem and we do not discuss it."
Mohamed Younis, a senior analyst at Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre, said public opinion research was intended to measure perceptions.
"We know from a statistical perspective that Gulf countries do have relatively high levels of [certain] diseases.
"However, awareness of these diseases may not be as high as we presume," he said. "This may mean that greater awareness is needed in knowing the risks of obesity for example, or the causes of heart disease."
Figures across the Middle East were high in the health category - 86 per cent of Saudis, 84 per cent of Bahrainis, and 82 per cent of Kuwaitis said they were happy with their health.
But the UAE showed one of the highest satisfaction rates - second only to Qatar where 90 per cent said they felt they were healthy.