Cardiovascular Diseases in the UAE’s Migrant Population

A recent study conducted by Aster Hospitals in Dubai has found that Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) in the UAE is affecting an age group younger than the world average, with the incidence being highest in Indian expatriates. CAD is a form of cardiovascular disease, referring specifically to the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries.

In an earlier article on the topic of CVDs, we explored the prevalence of the disease in the UAE’s youth. The study done at Aster Hospitals has echoed this sentiment and Dr. Naveed Ahmad, a specialist interventional cardiologist, has emphasized that the “mean age for CAD in this region is much lower than the rest of the world”. But although genetics, age, and gender may affect one’s predisposition to CVDs, lifestyle habits play a major role too. As a result, migrants face very different hurdles to achieving heart health than most Emirati youth do.

Dr Sachin Upadhyaya, a specialist cardiologist and an investigator on the study, also focused on the controllable risk factors that may lead to CVDs. In an interview on the study, he mentioned the detrimental effects that smoking, hypertension, consumption of junk food, and a lack of physical activity could have on one’s heart health. But to what extent are these risk factors caused by migrants’ acculturation to the UAE? This is a question that has been explored in a number of differing contexts.

A 2015 research article sampled 1375 South Asian men on obesity rates, hypertension, and diabetes rates. These figures were then compared with the number of years the subject had spent living in the UAE. The study ultimately found that increased years of residency generally led to greater acculturation and a change in lifestyle behaviours towards those unhealthy for the heart. Researchers cited a number of reasons for this, including the increased accessibility and availability of high-energy foods and snacks. Participants also often experienced a decrease in physical activity upon moving to the UAE, especially when engaged in occupations like driving and shopkeeping.

A similar study published in 2017 sampled 559 migrant women on type two diabetes mellitus rates. When these figures were compared with time spent living in the UAE, researchers concluded that the two have a positive correlation. This result is significant because people with type two diabetes mellitus often also have hypertension, are obese, don’t participate in  physical activity, and smoke. If these sound familiar, it’s because they’re all risk factors for CVDs.

In order to tackle the problem of CVDs in the UAE, it is imperative that we understand the diversity in the country. This is especially the case when non-nationals make up around 90%of the population. Acknowledging these differences will be essential to designing interventions that adequately cater to the specific social, economic, and health needs of the target demographic.