Is a High-Calorie Diet Putting the UAE’s Wellbeing at Risk?
The UN has released a report that argues people in the UAE are eating too much of the wrong foods and straining the nation’s food supply. This is in-line with recommendations by other food wellness experts, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) which says that, at 3,000 calories, the average daily caloric intake per person in the UAE in 2005 was almost a third above the recommended amount for a healthy person.
According to Dalia Shukri, a clinical dietician at the American Hospital in Dubai, overconsumption is ‘very typical; I see it in the hospital. It is an increasing trend.’ Obesity rates in the UAE are 25% for men, and almost 40% for women, and the wellbeing of 20% of the nation’s residents is affected by diabetes, which is a life-threatening, obesity-related condition. Clearly, something needs to be done about diet and nutrition in the UAE.
Dubai-based nutritionist and dietician, Hala Abu Taha, suggested that the current caloric intake was even worse now than when the study was conducted in 2005: ‘Some extremely obese patients will recall consuming 8,000 calories,’ she said, while others with more reasonable weights often consumed more than 3,200 calories a day. She added that the actual number is probably higher because you’re likely to underestimate what you eat.
Experts say that the problem is compounded by the fact that 10% of the food supply in the Gulf region is imported, which means more dependence on foreign resources. According to a joint publication by the FAO, the Economic and Social Development department of the UN and the World Food Programme (WFP), known as The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2009, one trigger behind increasingly unhealthy dietary habits in the developing world was the global financial crisis. The report said that less money means reduced food diversity, and ‘food expenditures also shift towards calorie-rich, energy-dense foods and away from more expensive protein- and nutrient-rich foods.
So what can be done? Shukri advised, ‘Physical activity is key – you need to burn off the food you eat. You can have a good 2,400 to 2,600 calories of food and exercise to burn it off.’ Also, nutritionists recommend that restaurants display calorie counts on their menus as well as colour-coded labels warning customers of unhealthy food. Shukri added, ‘They shouldn’t get too close to the prices, but make people aware, and telling them to not have this or not have that, and to tell them what’s the healthier option.’