x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Waist size matters, UAE health authority tells Emiratis

The Health Authority Abu Dhabi is giving out free measuring tapes to Emiratis in a bid to raise awareness about diabetes.

The Health Authority Abu Dhabi seeks to help Emiratis realise that an elevated waist size raises a red flag about the risk of diabetes. Sammy Dallal / The National
The Health Authority Abu Dhabi seeks to help Emiratis realise that an elevated waist size raises a red flag about the risk of diabetes. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI //Emiratis were given free tape measures yesterday so they could check their waistlines and see if they were at risk of diabetes.

Everyone who picked up a copy of The National's Arabic language sister paper, Al Ittihad, received a tape measure as part of a campaign by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi's (Haad) Weqaya, or prevention, service.

Readers were also given instructions on how to use the tape measure through cartoon images of a male and female Emirati.

Women with a waist size less than 35 inches (88 centimetres) in circumference and men under 40in (102cm) are at low risk of diabetes.

Anyone bigger is at high risk and five times more likely to develop the disease.

Readers were not told what to do if they were at high risk but they were advised that "to lower the risk of getting diabetes, enjoy a balanced diet and practise what you enjoy in physical exercise".

Abu Abdullah, 53, from Abu Dhabi, did the quick test as soon as he got his paper yesterday.

"I was surprised to see it. I liked the idea that instead of going to the market and getting your own tape measure, you get it for free," he said.

After learning that he was borderline "safe", Mr Abdullah encouraged his wife to check herself. She was also in the clear.

"We will try now to not exceed the limit and use the tape to check every now and then," he said. "It is a good initiative from Haad - diabetes is a big issue in the UAE and this will contribute largely in raising awareness."

Shamsa Mohamed, a frequent Al Ittihad reader, also measured her waist size.

"I came out, thankfully, OK," she said. "When my husband comes back from work, I will make him use it as well. I did not know waist circumference had anything to do with diabetes."

Fawzya Ahmed, an Abu Dhabi government employee, saw people at work waving around the tape measure and checking their waist size.

"I saw people checking, a few women at my work," she said.

A Haad official said the main purpose of the tape measure was to encourage people to visit the campaign's website, www.weqaya.ae. The site has information about free health checks for Emiratis who have a thiqa health insurance card.

"Anything simple to use for diagnosis is a good step," said Dr Hamed Farooqi, the director of Dubai Health Authority's diabetes centre.

He said the test was probably printed only in Arabic because diabetes was prevalent among the local population. If people find they are at high risk, he advises them to first try to lower their weight and then check with a healthcare provider about more tests.

With pre-diabetes, and even early diabetes, there may not be any symptoms, Dr Farooqi said. "People can have diabetes and not know. Early stage has no symptoms, there is no reason to know you have diabetes," he said.

While checking your waist size is a good indicator, it is not the only way to check for diabetes.

"Age and gender are also important, there is a checklist," Dr Farooqi said. "An elevated waist size raises a red flag."

He said that Dubai Health Authority, through its diabetes centre, had put diabetes awareness high on its priority list.

Dr Saf Naqvi, a consultant diabetologist and endocrinologist and deputy chair at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, also praised the campaign.

"Research has shown that waist circumference predicts the risk of diabetes in a similar way to BMI [body mass index]," he said.

"Waist circumference is an indirect marker of insulin resistance, and insulin is the key underlying defect in type 2 diabetes.

"Overweight people with large waists have the same or higher risks of eventually developing type 2 diabetes as obese people."

osalem@thenational.ae