Dubai is leading in cases of eating problems and weight gain cases in the Emirates. In a 2012 study among schoolchildren, 18% of boys were found to be overweight and 27% were obese (Zaal, et al, 2018). The numbers were lower in girls as they were 13% and 20% respectively. The same increase has been noted in other Arabian countries like Jordan and Algeria, but the focus is particularly on UAE (Musaiger, 2013). A lot of concerns have been raised about the issue by media houses and other interested parties.
Eating disorders have affected UAE citizens differently across age groups. The youth are particularly at a higher risk of engaging in bad eating habits compared to older adults. Studies show that over half of the population of adults below 25 is at risk (Rizvi, 2017). With 40% of this group having less or higher than their recommended range of body weight, the effects are easily determined. Among university students, about 74% can develop eating problems (Thomas, 2010). The risk is higher in younger children who might not be aware of the effects of unbalanced eating habits. Adolescents and teenagers usually have a desire to fit into certain ideals as taunting and comparisons are usually rampant during these ages. This might lead them to try and compensate by changing their feeding habits. Some may skip meals in order to cut weight while others may increase intake to catch up.
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An individual’s gender has also played a part in fueling the problem. UAE is largely a male-dominated society and women are usually restricted to living according to certain requirements. A smaller number of teenage girls than boys are at risk of obesity (Bull, 2016). With the average of young people at risk of these disorders at 53% (Rizvi, 2017), only 36% of female youth fall in this category. These findings were reached after conducting an EAT-26 test. The society’s expectations for women to have tin bodies may be the main causes for young girls to avoid heavy food intake (Eapen, 2006). They thus stand at risk of suffering from anorexia compared to their male age mates. Young men are more likely to engage in binge eating and other indulgences.
Despite its role being small, religion has also contributed to some extent. Islam teaches morals and righteous living, caring and giving, as well as avoiding indulgences like overeating, alcohol consumption, and other vices. Excessive intake of junk foods, for instance, is discouraged as it may lead to laziness and lack of contribution. Local dishes like Al Machboos, kinds of seafood, dates, and Maqluba are encouraged due to their nutritional benefits as compared to processed sugars (Eating Disorders, 2018). Pork and its products are also illegal. The conservative nature of Emiratis has brought some resistance to western dishes, especially amongst the older generations. The eating habits promoted by the culture may not be the best alternative, however. With ideals to live up to, some people may go to extreme ends like completely shunning certain foods to starving themselves (Treatment, 2018).
Exposure to western media and new lifestyle trends has also been associated with the development of eating disorders. Using celebrities as the standards of beauty and fitness, the need to stay in shape through working out and watching one’s diet has increased. Only 27% of university students were okay with their body shapes (Janine, 2013). This is a huge dissatisfaction with one’s body shape, especially amongst the youth. An EAT-26 research conducted in Ajman found out that female youths in government schools had varying perceptions with their desired body weight as compared to their current one (Kazim, 2017). The interviewed students were categorized into “normal”, “overweight”, “obese”, and “underweight”. Findings surprisingly showed that overweight and obese respondents were less worried about their shapes, with 93% viewing themselves as normal. Those classified as having a normal weight had a higher risk of indulging in binge consumption than their underweight counterparts. Around 89% of them had the right perception of their weight.
The United Arab Emirates is at risk of lifestyle-related diseases due to the various dietary disorders that are currently on the rise. The youth are the heavily affected group due to arising changes in lifestyles and increased access to consumer products. Both extremes are present with males being at risk of bulimia and the females threatened by anorexia (Schulte & Thomas, 2013). Research shows that the problems are on the rise. Some perceived causes of this are media influence, family and societal expectations, pressure from friends, and inadequacy (Kazim, 2017). With more than half of the youth at risk, awareness campaigns should be carried out in order to inform them of the consequences of unhealthy living. Illnesses and reduced productivity may occur and hence the necessity to prevent them in advance. Schools and colleges are the best places to start.
The youth in UAE should learn to notice signs of eating disturbances early in order to avoid them. This will help them lead healthy lifestyles. Engaging in exercise and physical activity will also help them deal with the said problems. Each person is also encouraged to regularly visit a doctor and perform an EAT test to determine their attitude to food consumption and body appearance. Being a Muslim region, the youth should make sure to follow what the Holy Quran teaches about greed and other sins.
- Bull, A. (2016, February 22). UAE Teens Facing A Rise In Eating Disorders – Emirates Woman. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from http://emirateswoman.com/eating-disorders/
- Kazim, A., Almarzooqi, M. S., &Karavetian, M. (n.d.). The Prevalence and Determents of Eating disorders among Emirati Female Students Aged 14–19 Years in Ajman, UAE. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from https://www.scitechnol.com/peer-review/the-prevalence-and-determents-of-eating-disorders-among-emirati-female-students-aged-1419-years-in-ajman-uae-kWGD.php?article_id=6029
- Musaiger et al. (2018). Risk of disordered eating attitudes among adolescents in seven Arab countries by gender and obesity: A cross-cultural study. Retrieved 8 April 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666312004266
- Rizvi, A. (2017, September 10). Family comments and life changes aiding rise in UAE eating disorders. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from https://www.thenational.ae/uae/health/family-comments-and-life-changes-aiding-rise-in-uae-eating-disorders-1.627083
Eapen, V., Mabrouk, A., & Bin-Othman, S. (2006). Disordered eating attitudes and symptomatology among adolescent girls in the United Arab Emirates. Eating Behaviors, 7(1), 53-60. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2005.07.001
- Schulte, S., & Thomas, J. (2013). Relationship between eating pathology, body dissatisfaction and depressive symptoms among male and female adolescents in the United Arab Emirates. Eating Behaviors, 14(2), 157-160. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2013.01.015
- Thomas, J., Khan, S., & Abdulrahman, A. (2010). Eating attitudes and body image concerns among female university students in the United Arab Emirates. Appetite, 54(3), 595-598. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2010.02.008
- Treatment. (2018). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved 8 April 2018, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/treatment
- Warning signs & symptoms | Eating Disorders Victoria. (2018). Eatingdisorders.org.au. Retrieved 8 April 2018, from https://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/eating-disorders/what-is-an-eating-disorder/warning-signs-a-symptoms
- Zaal, B., et al, (1970). Body weight perception among adolescents in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from http://www.redalyc.org/html/3092/309226791024/