As reported by WHO, as much as 34.5% of the UAE population is classified as obese and 70.6% as overweight.
This alarming report has been further supplemented by the International Diabetes Federation, reporting in 2019 that one in six adults in the UAE has diabetes.
Furthermore, that same year, Zayed Military Hospital’s study conducted in the UAE, and led by Professor Humaidan Al Zaabi, found that 4.7% of patients were said to be suffering from the disease and that 41% of patients displayed signs of impaired fasting blood glucose, an indicator of pre-diabetes.
The prevalence of an overweight population continues to escalate in the region; however, there is often no consensus regarding the optimal therapy. With this in mind, I have dedicated much of my career to reviewing and examining the causes and current treatment outcomes, to identify prominent areas of unmet clinical needs. And along this journey, I have concluded two key things. Firstly, many of my patients, especially those I work with through the medical device company, Allurion, suffer from hunger and often diet and exercise isn’t enough.
They need the chance to take a break from the feeling of never being full. Therefore, this led to my second finding that we must meet their needs with temporary solutions for weight loss that have long term results and are minimally invasive, which I will go on to discuss further.
For the vast majority of patients, conventional behavioral therapies (i.e., diet, exercise, counseling) often fail over the long term. A 2018 study by Allurion of over 9,800 respondents in the region reported that 73% of people in the UAE are not fully satisfied with the outcome of previous weightloss solutions they have tried. These ranged between fitness, apps, weight loss supplements, diet plans and medical follow-ups. Clearly, there is a need for more effective, patient-friendly, professional solutions, beyond diet and exercise.
So what are the facts and what is the solution? Existing pharmacotherapy adjunctive to behavioral therapy has limited effectiveness and an imperfect safety record. In contrast, bariatric surgery has a high degree of weight loss efficacy, yet only a small fraction of the qualifying obese population undergoes these procedures because of the associated perioperative6 risks and potential late complications.
In addition, the role of bariatric surgery is unclear in certain patient populations, such as patients with lower body mass index (BMI, 30-35 kg/m(2)), the high-risk “super obese” patients (BMI > 60), the morbidly obese adolescent, and obese patients requiring weight reduction in preparation for other procedures, such as orthopedic, transplant, or vascular surgeries.
In these circumstances, there is a need for an effective but less invasive treatment to bridge the gap between medical and surgical therapy. With this in mind, at the beginning of 2020, I joined forces with Allurion to introduce a technology that can be the solution for UAE’s overweight population and dangerously high obesity numbers. The Allurion’s Elipse Gastric Balloon, is the world's first and only weight loss device that requires no surgery, endoscopy, or anaesthesia. Using a swallowable capsule, many more people in the UAE will be able to lose weight easily (an average of 10 to 15% of their body weight) and more importantly, reduce the risk of having diseases attributed to being overweight or obese, including, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and polycystic ovary syndrome to name but a few.
I am passionate about changing the approach to weight loss, however I can’t stress enough to my patients that no weight loss programme is a silver bullet and an effective programme is based on good healthcare and good science. With this in mind, always look for a proven programme that takes a holistic approach to losing weight. For example, dietary support from a nutritionist is essential to ensure lasting lifestyle changes.
With World Health Day around the corner on April 27th, I hope 2021 now offers a solution for those looking to make a change in their lifestyle and take control of their weight issue and the all too well-known diseases associated.
Words by Dr. Samir Rahmani, Consultant Laparoscopic, Bariatric and General Surgeon, Novomed Hospital and Centres