Obesity in Dubai

The UAE is the fifth most obese nation in the world - but what can be done?

Area Guides

With the launch of Dubai Municipality’s ‘Your Child in Gold’ anti-obesity campaign, we look at the issue of overeating.

The UAE has a growing waistline, according to the BMC Public Health journal – it’s the fifth most obese nation in the world, and that’s a record the country won’t be proud to hold.

In a bid to raise public awareness of overeating, especially among the young, Dubai Municipality launched the ‘Your Child in Gold’ initiative in July as a way to encourage parents and children to shed those pesky excess pounds and start focusing on a healthy lifestyle. But overeating can affect anyone, especially in a city that loves fast food.

Overeating might sound like it’s a just a habit, or one too many trips to the buffet counter, but in many cases it goes deeper than that and can be a clinical condition.

Dina Zalami, counselling psychologist at mental health clinic The LightHouse Arabia, specialises in eating disorders in teens and adults, and explains the distinction between a bad habit and clinical condition. ‘In the case of an eating disorder, the person is obsessed with food and thinks about food all the time. People who have eating disorders usually struggle with anxiety and depression and these two are causes for the disorder but are also symptoms of the disorder, so it’s a vicious cycle’.

The ‘Your Child in Gold’ scheme has seen 18,000 kids and parents qualify for the competition, of the 28,000 who applied. The youngsters stand to win one gram of gold per kilo of weight they lose. While the concept of giving children gold for losing weight might seem gimmicky, Zalami thinks that the increased awareness of weight issues among the general population can help sufferers seek help.

But why are more people now dealing with overeating? Zalami suggests that pressure and society’s pursuit of perfection can fuel a generation with low self-esteem. ‘In the case of teenagers, due to academic pressures and also the pressure to be perfect in general – fuelled by the media messages and globalised social media – everyone is always comparing each other and aspiring to be more perfect, and in this case, being thin, is being equated to being more perfect.’

According to Zalami, those with a tendency towards overeating use food as an ineffective coping mechanism to deal with negative emotions. Instead of being able to address the cause of their stress, they tend to escape from it through food. But it’s not just how we eat and our feelings about food, it’s what we actually put in our mouths that matters too, with overeaters typically binging on high calorie options.

Dalia Shukri is head nutritionist at Swedish Health, a Dubai-based company offering premium health products. She feels that a healthy diet and relationship with food starts at home. ‘Your diet, habits and the way you eat starts from when you’re a child, and your family are very influential, so we have to set a good example to our kids. We never advise putting a child on a diet, but unhealthy food is going to stunt their growth at a time when it is crucial that they get all the vitamins and minerals that they need.’

Zalami feels that there is limited support for clinical overeaters in Dubai but recommends that sufferers seek professional help from a psychiatrist who can help deal with the emotional issues. ‘A lot of people see it as something that you can just get over quickly and easily if you really wanted to, but it’s more complex than that.’
For expert counselling advice contact The LightHouse Arabia, Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim 2, www.lighthousearabia.com (04 380 9298). Swedish Health meal replacement foods, www.nutridiet.ae
(04 431 6006).

Where to get support

Weight Watchers Dubai Meet Up
This group is for women who need support during the process of losing weight. It’s not officially affiliated with Weight Watchers programmes but enables those on the points-based diet plan to meet weekly. www.meetup.com/weight-watchers-dubai

Overeaters Anonymous
Following a 12-step plan this network offers a supportive environment for those struggling with eating issues.

Diamond weight-loss support group at Optimal Fitness
This group meets on Saturday mornings to discuss weight-loss issues and focus on detox, nutrition, mind-set, dispersion and support.
Free. Sat 9.15am-10.15am. Dubai Studio City, www.optimalfitness.ae (04 457 2048).

LifeWorks Dubai
This clinic runs courses and seminars including a positive body image counselling session.
Al Wasl Road, Umm Suqeim 1, www.counsellingdubai.com (04 394 2464).

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