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Mon 17 Jan 2011 06:09 PM

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Diabetes could ‘devastate’ Gulf economy, says expert

At least 20% of UAE, Saudi population affected; need to change lifestyle, education

Diabetes could ‘devastate’ Gulf economy, says expert
An estimated 20 percent of the UAE economy is affected by diabetes

A
top diabetes official said diabetes in the Gulf and UAE could potentially have
a devastating effect on the local economy if levels were left untreated.

“Given
the impression I got when were [in Dubai], there’s a high level of
understanding at the political levels of the potential devastating effect of
diabetes in the region in terms of lifestyle and the emerging obesity
epidemic,” Lars Sorenson, president and CEO of Copenhagen-based healthcare
company Novo Nordisk, told Arabian Business.

He
said the higher the income level per country, the greater the risk of diabetes.

“You
even have to be concerned about Iraq going forward – the war has stopped and
income levels are going up again so lifestyles will be impacted.”

General
lack of knowledge and education in the population could be an
insurmountable obstacle, said Sorenson.

“The
general public awareness is similar to other countries of the same income
background. So unfortunately it is a problem of a lack of public awareness, and
it’s important that [health care professionals] get a chance to meet
politicians and people from Treasury who aren’t working on public health issues
all the time… but need to know about the topic to prevent it from becoming a
challenge,” he said.

In
the UAE, where an estimated 20-25 percent of the adult population has the
disease, an increasingly sedentary Western lifestyle is the blame. Sorenson
said Oman, Qatar and Bahrain followed the same pattern.

“It
was lack of activity comparable to other countries of other income levels – but
the MENA region is nitrogenous, so there are countries where it’s not as much
of a problem,” he said, citing poorer, less-Western countries like Yemen.

“Yemen
has lowest income per capita, so people are living rural hard lives and that
means that the prevalence of diabetes is much less,” he said.

“We’ve
seen this in similar environments in Africa – to sustain life in poor-income
countries, people gravitate towards urban areas, and now within the urban areas
you see a blowup in diabetes.”

He
said that in the next few decades, the economy would take the brunt of the
epidemic, with soaring health care costs.

“While
it may not be a major issue at this point in time, it’s likely to,” he said.
“The UAE has the highest prevalence in the region, together with Saudi – almost
20 pct of the adult population there has diabetes. That’s one in every family.
So it is likely to change the public perception of diabetes because it’ll be
less stigmatized when people all know someone who has it.”

Experience
in the US and Europe has taught researchers that diabetes is one of the most
costly diseases to a healthcare system. Still, the disease itself – if caught
early – is inexpensive when treated on an individual basis.

“The
[early] medicines are affordable – it’s when they’re not getting proper
treatment and we get very serious health issues like kidney failure, strokes,
cardiovascular disease, the amputations and blindess,” he said. “These all stem
from diabetes, and are likely to be one of the biggest public health costs to
any public country.”

Most
Gulf countries have underestimated the illness’s impact.

“It’s
often countries in transition economically, and they’re dealing with trying to
build infrastructure, trying to build schools and social security… most have
underestimated how difficult it is to get politicians to understand that this
needs to be addressed,” he said. “The UAE [government] seems to understand the
issue and I think there’s reason to be optimistic that opportunities will
emerge from this.”

But
the impact of culture on diet and lifestyle remains key.

“They’re
impacted by the culture of individual people, and it’s very hard to change
culture,” Sorenson said. “So the middle income countries will get worse before
they get better. In the meantime the main thing is to insure there’s health
care capacity to treat diabetes.”

 

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HEALTH & FITNESS 8 years ago

have you noticed that when referring to particularly bad eating habits, its always 'western eating habits'.
Just goes to show what the west does is not a panacea for everything in our lives. Traditional arabian/middle eastern eating habits are the envy of any hardcore professional athlete (dates and milk in plenty, bowls of fresh raw vegetables, pulses and grains, olive oil drizzled over everything, magnificent...)

We dont need food produced in a lab. Thank you but no thank you Ms. America. Keep your burgers, fries, chips, hot dog (what kind of name for a food is that?) (im getting a chill in my spine just mentioning these foods - disgusting...)

MIDDLE EAST - PLEASE BAN THESE FOODS IMMEDIATELY/THEY ARE TOXIC & DANGEROUS TO OUR CHILDREN - they are destroying lives.
And if anyone who is overweight is happy with himself and wants to continue eating it or for those occasions - you can make this food at home using natural ingredients... delicious.

His Excellency Dr Paul 8 years ago

Ah yes, I somehow knew it would be blamed on westerners. It's always the west's fault isn't it?

I know this is an alien concept to many here, but nothing needs to be banned before you stop eating too much of it. You can use your freedom to choose and select healthy foods. There is plenty in the supermarket and most restaurants have healthier options too.

No one is being force-fed. Take responsibility for yourselves and stop blaming everyone else. Nothing goes through that little hole under your nose and into your stomach unless YOU put it there.