Are you an Emirati aged between 18 and 40? Would you like to be part of a pioneering study, the first and biggest of its kind in the UAE? Then researchers at New York University Abu Dhabi want to hear from you.
The UAE Healthy Future Study is being conducted by the university’s Public Health Research Center to examine Emirati health and the community’s well-documented problems with prevalent diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
And as an add-on, the study will also look at the impact of Covid-19 on those chronic conditions, which are all known to be risk factors in contracting the virus, and how the pandemic is changing habits and behavior.
More than 7,000 people have signed up since the pilot study was launched in 2014, but researchers are now appealing for 13,000 more to make up the desired study group of 20,000. To make it easier – and of course to comply with vital precautions needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 – recruitment has now shifted to online.
The UAE Healthy Future Study is the first of its kind and as well as lifestyle, it will examine the role of genetics and environment in the nation’s health. And if you’re wondering why such research is necessary, just take a look at these shocking statistics:
- One in five Emiratis is diabetic by the time they are 50
- 65 percent of UAE nationals are overweight or obese
- Cardiovascular or heart disease is the number one killer in the UAE
Those factors, among others such as high blood pressure and lung disease, are likely to worsen the outcome for anyone who becomes infected with Covid-19.
“The people most likely to die from Covid-19 are those already suffering from other diseases,” said Dr Raghib Ali, head researcher in the Heathy Future Study. “Obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases are common among the UAE national population and these diseases increase the risk of poor outcomes with Covid-19. By taking part in the UAE Healthy Future study you can help to reduce the incidence of such diseases for future generations.”
Those taking part in the study first fill out a detailed questionnaire about their diet, health, lifestyle, personal and family medical history and also about their early life and education. Some questions relating to the coronavirus have also been added. Then some physical measurements and small samples of their blood, urine and mouth swabs are taken.
Volunteers must agree to be followed up after between one and five years and again after seven to 10 years. Absolute confidentiality is guaranteed, as researchers cannot access any information that reveals a participant’s identity.
The study will also look at how consanguinity, which arises from the custom of marrying within one’s tribe or clan, plays a role in making chronic disease so prevalent.
“Is the reason for these chronic diseases genetic or environmental?” said Dr Abdishakur Abdulle, associate director of the Public Health Research Center at NYUAD. “If we can find an answer we can then move to intervention and toward limitation.”
Information gleaned from a similar large-scale study in Finland helped reduce heart disease by around 80 percent, said Dr Ali.
The hope is that the findings of the study will help formulate future health policy and encourage healthier habits among the population. And it could not be more timely.
- Registration for the UAE Healthy Future Study is ongoing and available online.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.