Zayed University holds the first research forum in public health and nutrition


March 18, 2015

In an effort to make real and tangible improvements to health and lifestyles of the UAE’s population, Zayed University held the first annual research forum in public health and nutrition recently in Dubai. The first research forum in public health and nutrition was organized by Zayed University’s College of Sustainability & Humanities.

The one-day forum, which saw leading researchers in the field of public health nutrition from across the UAE and the region, was held to create channels of collaboration between local and regional institutions working in public health nutrition and to achieve synergies for future research.

Several topics were addressed during the research forum such as energy intakes, nutrient adequacy and diet quality of Emirati children and adolescents, patterns and determinants of breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices of Emirati mothers in the UAE, the prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome (MS) amongst school adolescents in the UAE, and the effect of vitamin D status on weight loss and biochemical changes in a clinic setting.

Dr. Dalia Haroun, Assistant Professor in Nutrition at Zayed University, discussed the prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome (MS) among school adolescents in Dubai through her cross-sectional study. MS is a disorder of energy utilization and storage, which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“The UAE is ranked 11th worldwide for the prevalence of type two diabetes. My cross-sectional study aims to investigate the prevalence of MS and its associated risk factors among adolescents in the UAE,” Dr. Dalia, who holds a consultancy post at UNICEF, said.

“Anthropometry, biochemical assessments and blood pressure were measured in a total of 607 students (314 boys; 293 girls) aged between 10 and 18 recruited from 14 governmental secondary schools in Dubai. Around 58.5 per cent of the sample were normal weight, while 24.7 per cent were overweight and 16.8 per cent were obese. MS was identified in 2.8 per cent of the sample and was more frequent in boys and also more likely to be identified in those who were obese or overweight compared with students of normal weight,” she added.

“My research findings also indicated the importance of early screening and development of national school-based interventions to promote a healthier lifestyle in order to reduce future risk of diseases in adulthood,” Dr. Dalia advised.

Another professor from UAE University (UAEU) examined the state of obesity in the UAE and shared significant findings during the research forum.

Dr. Habiba Ali, Associate Professor and Program Coordinator for the Dietetics Coordinated program in UAE University (UAEU) pointed out in her research that the prevalence of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases such type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically in the UAE in recent years.

“The objective of my research is to determine energy intakes, nutrient adequacy, and diet quality of a nationally-representative sample of children and adolescents (6 to 18 years of age) in the UAE,” Dr. Habiba, the recipient of the prestigious Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences, said.

“A cross-sectional design was used to assess dietary intakes of around 253 children (6-10 years of age) and 276 adolescents (11-18 years of age) in the UAE. Trained dietitians collected a 24-hour food recall in the homes of the participants. Nutrient intakes were compared to the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) and food group consumption with the MyPyramid recommendations,” she added.

Results showed that significant proportions of children and adolescents had calcium and magnesium intakes below the recommended levels.

“Around nine to thirteen-year-old females consumed 206 kcal per day from candy and sweets and nearly 264 calories per day from sugar-sweetened beverages. The proportion of subjects with percent energy from saturated fat above the recommendation ranged from 27.6 per cent (males 9-13 years) to 45.9 per cent (males 6-8 years). Mean intakes of vitamins A, D, and E were lower than the estimated average requirements for all the sub-groups.

Significant proportions of the children and adolescents had calcium and magnesium intakes below the recommended levels,” Dr. Habiba added.

Additionally, the one-day forum saw researchers addressing the patterns of breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices of Emirati mothers in the UAE.

Studies proved that breastfeeding is the preferred method of feeding for the infant. The first two years of life are critical stages for a child’s growth and development. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding with safe, appropriate and adequate feeding is recommended as a global health policy in both developing and developed countries.

Dr. Hadia Radwan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics at the College of Health Sciences at University of Sharjah, presented a study aimed at investigating the different infant feeding practices and the influencing factors in the UAE.

“A convenient sample of 593 Emirati mothers, who had infants up to two years of age was interviewed. The interviews included a detailed questionnaire. The results showed that infant and young child feeding practices in the UAE were suboptimal,” Dr. Hadia said.

“There is a need for a national community-based breastfeeding intervention program and for the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding as part of a primary public health strategy to decrease health risks and problems in the UAE,” she added.

The first annual research forum in public health nutrition offered a unique opportunity to establish links, share views, and set agendas for an advanced research and tangible improvements to health and lifestyles of the country’s population.