Assessment of Obesity, Lifestyle, and Reproductive Health Needs of Female Citizens of Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), an Arabian Gulf state, has a population of 3.1 million, of whom only a small minority are citizens of the country, the remainder being expatriate workers and their families. The country has undergone rapid development over the last 30 years following the discovery of oil and the formation of the country from 7 emirates. A modern infrastructure has been established, and residents have undergone significant changes in lifestyle that parallel the rapid development of their country, including transition from deficiency diseases and undernutrition to degenerative diseases associated with overnutrition. These changes may lead to a rise in risk factors for chronic diseases and changes in reproductive factors in women. Establishing prevalences for such factors is essential for public-health planning (1), and planning must be done separately for men and women in Muslim countries, such as UAE, because strict sexual segregation is followed for most health programmes.

In developing countries, especially Muslim countries, population-prevalence studies are difficult, particularly for women, because of lack of access to a representative sample of community-dwelling people and reticence on the part of subjects to participate. These barriers can be overcome by using community survey techniques developed specifically for this purpose (2). We used such techniques to provide a representative sample of community-dwelling adult female citizens in Al Ain city, UAE, a small desert oasis city with about 300,000 people located in an agricultural district.

Only four studies have assessed the prevalence of risk factors for chronic diseases or reproductive factors among female citizens of UAE. Female citizens represented over half of the members of three communities studied in 1989-1990 for prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension (3) but other risk factors for chronic diseases and reproductive factors were not studied. This study showed a prevalence of obesity of 28% among women surveyed, a rate that prompts concern and identifies a need for further study. The UAE Ministry of Health performed two community surveys on child and family health in 1987 and 1995, which included some information on reproductive factors in women but did not look at lifestyle factors (4,5). In addition, one survey of postmenopausal women has been reported (6), but this survey included all residents, not just citizens, and did not look at lifestyle factors.

Since none of these studies provided adequate information to guide public-health planning for female citizens of UAE, the present study was conceived. The aim of this study was to establish the prevalence of various health-related lifestyle and reproductive factors among adult female citizens in Al Ain and to investigate their association with personal characteristics to guide health promotion and disease-prevention planning for UAE women.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Approval for the study was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UAE University, UAE.

Study subjects

A random sample of community-dwelling female UAE citizens living in the urban area of Al Ain medical district was surveyed during September 2000-August 2001. The stratified sampling technique was chosen to allow for an efficient data-collection process. Certain areas of the city are set aside for citizens' residences, and non-citizens are restricted from living in these areas. Seventy-five such areas were identified, and 16 were selected randomly. The best available map of each area selected was used for identifying all streets in the area, and a predetermined number of streets were randomly selected based on the size of the area. Every third house on each selected street was visited up to a maximum of 10 houses. All female UAE citizens aged over 19 years in each household visited were eligible for the study. …