UAE Report

Global Health Survey finds
critical gaps in health awareness
and action in the UAE


The urgency and importance of health engagement and action in the United Arab Emirates has been reinforced in the first-ever UAE edition of the Edelman Health Barometer study, an annual multinational study of public opinion about health beliefs, behaviours and their impact on global business. Perceived health in the UAE is strong, with more than 8 in 10 describing their health as good or excellent, compared to 64% globally. However, opportunities to improve health were revealed by gaps in health awareness, action and ability to change, suggesting more needs to be done collectively to advance the nation’s health.

“The health of a nation is its future,” said Iain Twine, General Manager, Edelman UAE. “We extended the global Health Engagement Barometer 2011 to the UAE to understand how local health attitudes and behaviours compare globally and within the population. This study provides a health snapshot of the UAE that reveals opportunities to improve our health, and allow us to benchmark future success.”


Interesting comparison data emerged as it relates to health perceptions, with 32% of Emiratis describing their health as excellent, and 27% of expats saying the same, compared to only 14% globally. The survey also uncovered a notable divergence between Emiratis and expats, as it relates to health ownership and responsibility, with expats feeling more responsibility for their own health than Emiratis (71% expats vs. 58% Emiratis). Interestingly, Emiratis were almost twice as likely to consider the Government responsible for their health, and expats were slightly more likely to hold their employers responsible for their health.

Data revealed several opportunities for health improvement within the UAE population, with 59% believing that they’re not exercising enough, 39% believing that they are not following a balanced or nutritious diet and 21% saying tobacco or smoking is a problem for them. Motivation emerged as a hurdle to overcome for 18% of respondents.

“We know we’re supposed to eat better, not smoke and exercise more to improve our health, but it’s easier said than done,” noted Megan Tucker, Account Director and Health Practice Lead, Edelman UAE. “Collectivity may be the solution, as the study results reveal an expectation that ensuring the long-term health of our community through healthy behaviours is a joint, multi-stakeholder responsibility involving everyone from government to the private sector, individuals to families.”


Eighty-four per cent of UAE residents reported that they’re in good or excellent health, which they no longer define as being simply “disease free”. For many, the definition of health has expanded to include other less-traditional aspects, including mental health, emotional health and mobility. The high rate of perceived health in the UAE is especially good news because health perceptions are the largest predictor of health outcomes. Traditional public health wisdom tells us that if people believe they’re well, they’re likely to behave in ways that promote health. However, opportunities for health behaviour improvement abound. Statistics reported by Health Authority- Abu Dhabi reveal high rates of lifestylerelated chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Approximately 33% of males and 38% of females in the UAE are obese, cardiovascular diseases account for more than a quarter of deaths and approximately one in five UAE residents are afflicted with diabetes – the second highest prevalence in the world. Knowledge

The Edelman Health Barometer 2011 reveals that global beliefs about what’s healthy don’t necessarily impact behaviour. For instance, 29% of global study participants believe that smoking and tobacco use keep them from being healthy, but 41% who engage in negative health behaviours smoke and use tobacco. Similar trends are apparent for exercise, and alcohol/drug use. In the UAE, there is a disturbing disconnect between knowledge and intention. Despite evidence that UAE residents understand negative health behaviours impact their long-term health and wellbeing, 21% overall, including 39% of Emiratis, have never tried to change a negative health behaviour.


Finally, the survey reveals an “action gap” between the desire to be healthier and the ability to change. Global data suggest that half of those people who attempt to change a negative health behaviour are not successful. Reasons for this failure include addiction/dependency, a lack of enjoyment or immediate reward, and a lack of on-going support from friends, family or other resources. In the UAE those desiring to change behaviour are driven by aspiration – with physical appearance, long-term health implications and a personal commitment as the leading triggers for change.


Social connections and interactions appear to be key for behaviour change. Globally, people believe that friends and family have as much responsibility for their personal health as their healthcare providers. After ‘themselves’, more than one-third (34%) of UAE respondents believe that their friends and family are responsible for their overall health, and almost half (46%) believe friends and family have the most impact on personal nutrition.

The theme of social interaction extended even further, as the study revealed that teaming up with friends and family is among the top motivators to health behaviour change globally. Additionally, social interaction need not be limited to in-person connections; it can also be achieved online. However, only 16% of UAE residents are taking advantage of online health forums or communities.

 Date of upload: 21st Jan 2012


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