When Sweet Goes Sour: Diabetes in the UAE
April 3rd, 2013, Karima Berkani

When Sweet Goes Sour: Diabetes in the UAE

As the region’s growing diabetes epidemic continues to worsen, medical personnel, school staff and parents in the UAE have placed more and more focus on increasing diabetes awareness and prevention. Schools in many Emirates have banned junk food and started to implement programs that promote healthy eating habits for students and parents alike. YouGov conducted an online survey among 999 residents of the UAE from March 4th-13th 2013 to better understand how and if increased diabetes rates has impacted them.

Given recent statistics about diabetes rates in the GCC, it is not surprising that roughly half (52 percent) of online respondents in the UAE report diabetes runs in their family. Over half of all Emirati online respondents (58 percent) reported diabetes runs within their family, compared to 54 percent of Asians, half of Arab expats, and 41 percent of Westerners. When asked to specify which family member(s) suffer from diabetes, 42 percent say their mother/father are diabetic, while 19 percent say their aunt/uncle and 18 percent say their grandparent(s).

When asked to list the top three perceived causes of diabetes in adults, 68 percent of online respondents cite ‘genetics’, while 53 percent say ‘weight/obesity’ and 49 percent blame ‘poor diet’. Furthermore, online respondents cite the top three symptoms of untreated diabetes in adults are, ‘frequent urination’ (63 percent), followed by ‘increased thirst’ (46 percent) and ‘fatigue/exhaustion’ (42 percent).

Similarly, when asked to identify risk factors associated with developing diabetes in children, 70 percent of all online respondents cite ‘family history/genetics’ while 54 percent cite consuming an ‘unbalanced diet’. Among online respondents who said diabetes runs in their family, an alarming 70 percent say they have never screened their child for diabetes.

When asked about their children’s diet, 69 percent of online respondents say they pay close attention to what their child/children eat and always make healthy food choices for them. However, these results varied drastically by demographic, with 97 percent of Asian online respondents and 94 percent of Western online respondents indicating as such, while only one-fifth of Emirati and Arab expat respondents said the same.

As many parents may agree, it is not always easy to instill healthy eating habits in children. Among parents who allow their children to eat unhealthy food at times, 59 percent say it is because their children insist upon it, while 32 percent say it is because their children are picky eaters. The overwhelming majority of respondents (87 percent) reported they, the parents, prepare the food at home. Nearly all (91 percent) of Arab Expats, 90 percent of Westerners and 87 percent of Asian respondents reported they prepare the food at home compared to 56 percent of Emirati respondents.

When asked if their child/children are involved in a form of physical activity, 60 percent indicated as such. Most commonly physical activity included physical education classes at school (47 percent) and sports (43 percent). Results varied significantly by demographic, with 84 percent of Westerners reporting their child/children are involved in a form of exercise compared to 68 percent of Asian respondents, 50 percent of Emiratis and 40 percent of Arab Expats.

However, it is promising that online respondents are largely aware of the symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes. Further, 66 percent of respondents say they are actively taking steps to improve their family’s health and only 3 percent say they are not currently doing anything nor do they plan to in the near future.