Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi Focuses on Prevention – Urgent Need to Tackle Root Causes of Heart Disease: Obesity, Lack of Exercise, Smoking and Stress
A new survey commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has revealed that 71% of UAE residents who took part reported having at least one major risk factor for heart disease, with a significant number reporting more than one.
Commissioned in the run up to World Heart Day on September 29, the survey of more than 1,000 UAE residents revealed that the most common risk factors reported by UAE residents are also among the most serious causes of heart disease.
When asked which heart disease risk factors apply to them, 23% reported they have high blood pressure, 15% said they have diabetes and 21% are obese. Lifestyle factors that play a critical role in the occurrence of heart attacks, strokes and sudden deaths were also common, with 35% of respondents saying they don’t get enough exercise and 32% suffering from high stress.
Despite government efforts to curb the dangerous habit, 20% of people surveyed continue to smoke, putting themselves at high risk of a range of serious health problems including heart disease, strokes and lung cancer.
One key area of concern was the high number of unhealthy lifestyle factors reported by people aged between 30 and 39. In total, some 43% said they don’t exercise enough and 36% suffered from stress. These factors were lower in people aged 40 and above, although this group reported higher rates of traditional risk factors such as diabetes (22%) and high blood pressure (35%).
“Our survey shows that, while there is a growing awareness among the population of how lifestyle impacts their heart health, there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to tackle the issues that drive high levels of heart disease in our community,” said Professor E. Murat Tuzcu, Chair of the Heart & Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
Of particular note in the results was the fact that 75% of women compared to 68% of men reported they had at least one risk factor or unhealthy lifestyle that may result in heart disease or stroke. Women reported higher rates of obesity (24%), high blood pressure (24%), stress (40%) and a lack of exercise (42%).
Many women said that they thought they were less likely to develop heart disease than men, but while this may be true for young woman, heart disease affects both genders in equal numbers after middle age.
Survey figures also revealed significant disparities in the prevalence of risk factors among people from the different national backgrounds that make up the UAE population.
Despite displaying a high awareness of the importance of healthy eating and regular physical activity, antidotes to obesity, more than half (52%) of western expats surveyed said they do not get enough exercise. Asian residents, 22% of whom reported being obese, were found to be the most stressed at 38%, alongside having higher than average rates of high blood pressure at 29%.
The effect of obesity on heart health remains widely misunderstood, particularly among UAE nationals. Asked if they knew that a high Body Mass Index (BMI) increased their risk of heart disease, 37% of Emiratis said no, compared to an average of 29% and just 12% of western expatriates. BMI is calculated from a person’s height and weight. It is a measure of obesity, unless the person is a bodybuilder or an athlete with a lot of muscle.
“I encourage people to look at these results and consider what lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their risk of heart disease, which is the number one killer in Abu Dhabi. Even small changes can help reduce a person’s risk. Without a strong focus on prevention, we will continue to see high rates of cardiovascular disease for generations to come,” concluded Professor Tuzcu.
The results continue to be concerning following the hospital’s prior survey in 2017, which revealed widespread misunderstandings of the causes of heart disease and how lifestyle can affect a person’s risk. That showed that one in five UAE residents were unaware that they were able to control their heart health, and that two in five were unaware of the role that family history of heart disease plays.
Comparing the two surveys, one positive aspect seems to be that awareness of heart health and the factors that cause heart disease is gradually improving across most demographic groups. On the other hand, transforming increased awareness into sustained healthy lifestyle behaviors remains a challenge.
Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is using the month of September to raise awareness of heart disease and its links to lifestyle factors such as obesity. As part of its ‘Know Your Heart’ campaign, the hospital is conducting a series of community outreach and education events and offering a range of digital tools that will support people looking to manage their heart health.
People who want to know more about the risks of heart disease and the steps they can take to reduce them can visit knowyourheart.clevelandclinicabudhabi.ae.