x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Too much work, too little sleep

Poor diets and inadequate exercise figure in results, but few admit to serious illness in nationwide research into lifestyles

We work too hard, spend too long in front of computer screens, eat badly, suffer from excessive stress and get far too little sleep and exercise. That's the snapshot of the average UAE resident that emerges from the latest in a series of polls carried out for The National by YouGov, the international research organisation.

Two in every five people admit to unhealthy eating patterns, including skipping meals and failing to eat sufficient fruit and vegetables, relying instead on junk food. Almost half - 46 per cent, men and women equally - said they had slept for less than six hours on at least two of the previous seven days, while a third regularly worked more than 45 hours a week. Overwork is a male burden, born by 42 per cent of men, compared with 16 per cent of women. Thirty six per cent of the 879 respondents claimed to be suffering from excessive levels of stress; in this, men and women were virtually equal.

On the plus side, only 18 per cent recorded smoking more than five cigarettes a day. Smoking is overwhelmingly a male pursuit - 24 per cent do it, compared with only 6 per cent of women. Only 21 per cent of respondents said they exercised for at least 90 minutes a week - the minimum recommended by many experts. There were distinct differences between nationality groups. For example, 36 per cent of Arab expatriates and 35 per cent of Asians said they worked long hours, compared with westerners (27 per cent) and Emiratis (12 per cent), although stress levels were fairly even across all groups.

Excessive caffeine was almost twice as likely to be consumed by expatriate Arabs (27 per cent) and westerners (22 per cent) as by Emiratis (14 per cent) and Asians (11per cent). On the other hand, westerners have the upper hand when it comes to exercise, which 43 per cent do regularly, compared with 20 per cent of Asians and Arab expatriates and 15 per cent of Emiratis. Forty-one per cent of respondents admitted to unhealthy eating, skipping meals, relying on junk food and consuming inadequate amounts of fruit and vegetables. At 46 per cent, women take worse care of themselves in this regard than men (39 per cent). As a group, at 45 per cent, the worst eaters are Arab expatriates.

At 29 per cent, they are also the biggest smokers, trailed by westerners at 19 per cent, Asians (11 per cent) and Emiratis (10 per cent). Karma Bhutia, 26, an Indian sales executive at an electronics company in Abu Dhabi, said: "I skip meals all the time, specially breakfast. I used to eat junk food a lot but I'm trying to cut down on it. "Life has become fast-paced. We are tired from work and we don't have time to prepare meals at home."

Mr Bhutia said he worked more than 45 hours a week and spent four to five hours daily in front of the computer to browse and chat with friends. "I sleep for about five hours at night, which I think is quite normal for my age." He added that the only exercise he got was when he played cricket for an hour during the weekend. But he admitted to smoking 12 cigarettes or even a whole pack every day. When it comes to sleep, men and women do equally badly - 46 per cent of either sex had had less than six hours of sleep for at least two out of the preceding seven days.

While 38 per cent of Emiratis said they regularly got too little sleep, closely followed by westerners and Asians (41 per cent and 42 per cent respectively), the most sleep-deprived were Arab expatriates at 54 per cent. The survey shows a significant proportion of people have a range of medical complaints, the most common being back or neck problems (35 per cent), stress and anxiety (27 per cent).

Overall, 18 per cent say they are obese. The highest proportion of obesity is found among Emiratis and Arab expatriates (both at 22 per cent). At 17 per cent, Asians are not far behind, but only eight per cent of westerners are obese. However, these figures suggest subjective self-slimming; they are contradicted by a national survey of 28,000 people carried out earlier this year by the Ministry of Health. Published in April, it found 68 per cent either overweight or obese.

There was one other anomaly: only five per cent of those polled - and no westerners - said they had diabetes. This comes as something of a surprise in a country rated by the World Health Organisation as having one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, and where this year's ministry survey found that 18 per cent were diabetic. On the plus side, 17 per cent have no health problems at all, while comparatively few suffer from some of the more serious illnesses, such as cancer (one per cent), heart disease (two per cent) and high blood pressure (nine per cent).

jgornall@thenational.ae