x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

We have some odd ideas about weight

Nutrition education, exercise, parental guidance and, above all, a cultural shift are needed to curb eating disorders that are affecting the UAE's young population.

Rapid change in UAE society has affected many aspects of daily life. The modern lifestyle has brought many welcome changes for Emiratis and expatriates alike.

But change can have unexpected effects. The power of mass media, for example, exposes young people to new perspectives on how they should look, and so many are developing unrealistic, and even dangerous, ideas about body image.

As The National reports today, experts are warning that eating disorders are on the rise. There is particular concern about anorexia and bulimia among teenage girls. Young women are often under pressure to be slim to improve their marriage prospects.

Sociocultural changes have also altered family life. Families eat together more rarely than a generation ago, which means parents may not be giving enough attention to their children's eating habits. Along with increased prosperity and the rise of fast food, this presents the danger of bad eating habits that can cause obesity or open the way to disorders.

A recent study looked at 361 Emirati undergraduate - 284 women and 77 men - and found that while more than half are in the medically-ideal range of body mass index, a strong majority of women, and half of men, wished to be slimmer than they are.

Few of them will be, it appears. Currently 67 per cent of Emirati men and 72 per cent of women are classed as overweight, many to the extreme degree called obesity. And as we reported yesterday, obesity - in both men and women - can reduce fertility levels. The links between obesity and diabetes, heart disease, kidney ailments, and other medical problems are well known.

A lot of developed countries share this two-fold problem: many people are heavier than they should be, but almost everyone wants to be slimmer, some unreasonably so. Plainly, both reality and perception about weight and fitness demand attention, not only around the family table but as a matter of public policy as well.

Reversing these problems will not be quick or easy. Nutrition education, more and better exercise facilities, parental guidance, a sceptical view of mass-media versions of the ideal - all of these must be developed and nurtured. This issue requires still more change, a cultural shift in the way we think about what we eat and how we should look.