Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

UAE residents still risk heart damage with lifestyle choices, new survey finds

Research also shows some are turning to weight loss surgery as a "quick fix"

Obesity - often fuelled by an unhealthy diet - was among the risk factors highlighted in the survey. Sammy Dallal / The National
Obesity - often fuelled by an unhealthy diet - was among the risk factors highlighted in the survey. Sammy Dallal / The National

UAE residents are increasing their risk of an early death by failing to understand how poor lifestyle can damage the heart, doctors have warned.

A new survey has revealed that while public awareness about how to stay healthy is growing, many continue to smoke or fail to take proper exercise.

Researchers asked more than 1,000 residents in the Emirates to identify which of nine potential catalysts of heart disease they believed they suffered from.

The risk factors included obesity, high blood pressure, anger issues and smoking, with 71 per cent of those polled all choosing at least one category.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Dima Quraini, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who stressed that people typically underestimated how unhealthy they were when asked in surveys.

“Less than one out of three people reported having no risk factors, so there’s a lot of work for us to do. But the problem is probably much larger.”

Researchers from YouGov polled 1,002 residents from around the UAE between August 21 and 27.

The survey, timed to coincide with World Heart Day next week, was done on behalf of the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi.

Its results showed one in five people admitted they smoked, 35 per cent said they did not exercise enough and almost a third - 32 per cent - said they were often stressed.

Because the data was self-reported, however, doctors warned the true extent of risk factors were likely to be far higher, particularly in respect of high blood pressure or being diabetic, which can both remain undiagnosed for long periods.

The study also found that many people were open to undergoing weight loss surgery as a way to improve their health.

Across all age groups, 18 per cent said they would consider weight loss surgery, while a further 36 per cent said they would “maybe” consider it.

Potentially undergoing surgery was even higher among the 30-39 age group, with nearly a quarter - 23 per cent - saying they would consider it and a further 37 per cent saying they would “maybe” think about going under the knife.

Dr Quraini said she was concerned that a rising number of people were seeing surgery as a “quick fix” alternative to changing their diets and lifestyles.

“I see young, otherwise healthy patients, who come to see us because they are interested in bariatric surgery,” she said. “I don’t feel like they always exhaust lifestyle changes.

“There are people who can benefit from weight loss surgery, but it’s still surgery and people can get complications.

“So, especially for a young patient, I would strongly advise them to pursue lifestyle changes that will stay with them for life and improve their overall health.”

In recent years, the UAE government has launched a string of campaigns and policies aimed at encouraging people to lead healthier lifestyles.

These include a 100 per cent tax on tobacco products, introduced in October 2017, and a tax on sugary drinks.

The survey also found that those on lower salaries were continuing to smoke at higher levels than residents with bigger incomes.

Risk factors to heart disease include obesity, high blood pressure, anger issues and smoking. The National
Risk factors to heart disease include obesity, high blood pressure, anger issues and smoking. The National

Among those on salaries of Dh10,000 or less, 22 per cent admitted they smoked. This fell to 16 per cent among those earning Dh25,000 or more.

While health awareness in the UAE had generally increased since the Cleveland Clinic commissioned a similar survey two years age, almost three in 10 - or 29 per cent - were not aware that a high body mass index – a calculation of fat based on height and weight – can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. This rose to 37 per cent among Emiratis.

Large gender differences were also uncovered in the survey. Women were five percentage points more likely than men to admit to being obese, nine percentage points more likely to say they had uncontrolled anger issues, 10 points more likely to admit to a lack of exercise and 13 points more likely to be stressed. However, women were seven percentage points less likely to smoke.

“Our survey shows that while there is a growing awareness among the population of how lifestyle impacts their heart health, there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to tackle the issues that drive high levels of heart disease in our community,” said Professor Murat Tuzcu, Chair of the Heart and Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

“I encourage people to look at these results and consider what lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their risk of heart disease, which is the number one killer in Abu Dhabi.

“Without a strong focus on prevention, we will continue to see high rates of cardiovascular disease for generations to come.”

Updated: September 22, 2019 09:13 PM

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