New Report: One-Third of UAE Residents Could Have Diabetes or Prediabetes by 2020

  • Staggering new statistics show public health impact and economic toll of diabetes epidemic in the UAE
  • Country’s diabetes rate among highest globally
One in three United Arab Emirates (UAE) residents could have diabetes or prediabetes by the end of the decade, according to a new analysis from international health and well-being company UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), released today at the World Health Care Congress Middle East meeting in Abu Dhabi.

The report, “ Diabetes in the United Arab Emirates: Crisis or Opportunity?,” estimates that 32 percent of the country’s adult population, including both UAE nationals and expatriates, may have diabetes or prediabetes by 2020 at a cost of $8.52 billion 1 (USD) (AED 31.27 billion 2) over the next decade if current trends continue.

“These new estimates highlight the urgent need for further action to stem the oncoming tidal wave of diabetes-related illness and related costs in the United Arab Emirates,” said Simon Stevens, executive vice president, UnitedHealth Group, and president of its Global Health division. “The good news is that curbing this epidemic is possible, since type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. The way forward begins with building on some of the innovative ideas now being tested in the UAE and bringing them to scale, informed by interventions and programs that have been shown to work in other countries facing similar challenges.”

Currently in the UAE, it is estimated that the vast majority of cases of prediabetes and about 35 percent of cases of diabetes remain undiagnosed, representing lost opportunities to avoid the costs and complications of a largely preventable disease. If left uncontrolled, type 2 diabetes can lead to severe complications, such as heart and kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness and limb amputation. Medical costs due to diabetes and prediabetes in the UAE may rise to an annual $1.04 billion (AED 5.14 billion) by 2020, representing a 58 percent increase from an estimated $657 million (AED 2.41 billion) in 2010, according to the report.

Worldwide, the prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes has increased dramatically over the past two decades on a parallel track with the global increase in obesity. More than 285 million people around the globe have diabetes. Without intervention that figure is expected to climb to 438 million people within 20 years. 3

Type 2 Diabetes in the UAE

According to some estimates, the UAE’s type 2 diabetes rate is among the top five countries in the world. In the UAE, about 13 percent of the population between 20 and 79 years of age has diabetes – more than double the global average of 6.4 percent. 4

Being overweight or obese is one of the primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes. According to the World Health Organization, about 73 percent of adult women and 66 percent of men in the UAE are overweight or obese, placing the country in the top five worldwide in terms of obesity.

“The epidemic of type 2 diabetes and its warning sign, prediabetes, are sweeping across the globe imposing severe health consequences and straining the financial resources of health care systems everywhere,” said Mr. Stevens. “As an innovative and technologically advanced country, the UAE is well positioned to make diabetes prevention a top priority and serve as an example to other countries in the region, and around the world.”

Actions to Slow the Rise of Diabetes

Diabetes in the United Arab Emirates: Crisis or Opportunity? offers three solutions that, over the next decade, could help prevent, delay onset of, or control the disease:
  • Screening and Diagnosis: There is an opportunity to reduce the number of people who would develop prediabetes or diabetes by offering straightforward screening tests to people with known risk factors (overweight, inactivity, hypertension, abnormal blood lipid levels, cardiovascular disease, family history and belonging to a high-risk ethnic population). This is an important first step toward health, building on the important initiatives now taking place in some Emirates.
  • Intervention and Prevention: Enabling and encouraging people to make better lifestyle decisions about diet and exercise directly address the principal risk factors of obesity and inactivity.5 Intervention studies of people with prediabetes in China, Finland, India, Sweden and the United States have uniformly shown reductions in the progression to type 2 diabetes.
  • Disease Management and Control: People with type 2 diabetes who actively manage their condition can more readily avoid the devastating complications related to the disease. This entails careful monitoring of blood sugar levels, taking any prescribed medications as instructed, maintaining weight loss, and increasing the use of self-care measures such as daily foot inspection, and regular eye and dental examinations.

The best hope of turning the tide on the evolving diabetes crisis in the UAE is by establishing community-based initiatives in collaboration with government public health agencies, nonprofit organizations and the private sector that can help to build public awareness about diabetes and its risk factors and modernize health care systems’ ability to use sophisticated data analytics, new technology, and innovative care models that engage consumers in new ways.

UnitedHealth Group is widely recognized as a pioneer in developing innovative new care models for preventing and treating diabetes, in partnership with patients, health professionals, community organizations and governments. FORTUNE magazine independently ranked UnitedHealth Group No. 1 in its industry for innovation in 2010. The company was also recognized by The Wall Street Journal’s 2010 Technology Innovation Awards. Visit for more information.

About UnitedHealth Group
UnitedHealth Group is a diversified health and well-being company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making health care work better. With headquarters in Minnetonka, Minn., UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through six operating businesses: UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, UnitedHealthcare Community & State, OptumHealth, Ingenix and Prescription Solutions. Through its family of businesses, UnitedHealth Group serves more than 75 million people worldwide. Visit for more information.


1 Unless otherwise stated, the monetary value is in 2010 constant U.S. dollars.

2 USD1.00=AED3.6724, Bloomberg, as of December 1, 2010

3 International Diabetes Federation. IDF Diabetes Atlas. 4th ed. Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation, 2009.

4 International Diabetes Federation. IDF Diabetes Atlas. 4th ed. Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation, 2009. Prevalence data is for both types 1 and 2 diabetes. According to the IDF Diabetes Atlas, “For most low income countries few people with type 1 diabetes survive long in adulthood so [data for adults] is close to 0%. In higher income countries around 5% to 10% have type 1 diabetes and the rest type 2 diabetes.”

5 Gillies CL, Abrams KR, Lambert PC, et al. Pharmacological and lifestyle interventions to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in people with impaired glucose tolerance: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2007;334:299.


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New Report: One-Third of UAE Residents Could Have Diabetes or Prediabetes by 2020