Socio-demographic characteristics, body image, self-esteem and their associations with overweight and obesity among Emirati adolescents living in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Thabet, Musab Sadaa (2022) Socio-demographic characteristics, body image, self-esteem and their associations with overweight and obesity among Emirati adolescents living in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


The UAE youths’ frequency of being more obese is twice to be thrice greater than the published international standards. The United Arab Emirates schoolchildren/youth (ages 1018) are said to be 1.8 times more obese than those in the United States, according to statistics from the First United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. According to World Health Organisation report, the UAE has been classified as the second highest for obesity rates in the world. As a result of these obesity statistics among the youths, there are associated diseases, which tend to plague the UAE adults later including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension and others, Immanuel, and Cynthia (2017).

There is a dearth of research on obesity in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the UAE in particular. In addition, there is quasi absence of quality and frequency of health and obesity awareness campaigns about the risks engendered by obesity, as excess adiposity is a key independent risk factor for the future development of many diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Population studies using representative samples need to accurately and effectively estimate the psychosocial, social, economic, and lifestyle factors that lead to obesity and their impact on public health, especially on adolescents.

Specific aims:
The study aims to investigate the association between socio-demographic characteristics, body image, and self- esteem, specifically:

a. To explore determinants of Obesity/BMI among adolescents in the UAE/Abu Dhabi.
b. To explore the relationship between socio-demographic factors and BMI among adolescents in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
c. To explore the associations of body image and self-esteem with BMI among adolescents in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
d. To examine the effect of various socio-demographic factors on body image and self esteem amongst adolescents in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
e. To investigate whether body image and self-esteem mediates the relationship between socio-demographic factors and BMI.

Using a cross sectional study design, a random representative sample of adolescents’ (N=1,181; 48.8% males) aged 14-17 years was recruited from public and private schools in Abu Dhabi, during the academic year 2011-2012. Participants completed a questionnaire collecting socio-demographic, Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC), Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE), and Body Image Satisfaction Questionnaire (BSQ) data. Body mass index-derived estimates of obesity were calculated using international cut-off: the World Health Organization (WHO).

The overall prevalence of Overweight and Obesity (30.4%) was about three times higher than the prevalence of Underweight (9.4%). Multivariate regression confirmed that BS was positively associated with adolescents’ overweight and obesity, also it was the most significant superior predictor in the BMI regression model. SE was negatively associated with adolescent overweight and obesity. Moreover, Dieting, Parent’s obesity, Watch TV, and Often Fell Lonely were identified as positive correlates of adolescent obesity, where, Parent’s Education, Excellent Health, Breakfast, Physically Activities, and Monthly Income were identified as negative associate of adolescent obesity. In addition, BS, and SE mediate the association between most of socio-demographic factors and BMI.

This study confirms a high prevalence of overweight and obesity among adolescents aged 14-17 years in Abu Dhabi. Our findings revealed adolescents with high BMI were those who were dissatisfied with their body shape, and had low self esteem. It is necessary to plan actions aimed as reinforcing and increasing self-esteem, focusing on the adolescents’ with overweight and obesity problems. This is the first study in Abu Dhabi that estimates the relationship between BMI and socio demographic factors through the mediations of BS and SE, as it has contributed to the body of existing knowledge and a better understanding of mediating affect from UAE culture. One of the most important and strongest findings of this research is the establishment of the first model in Abu Dhabi that contains most types of independent variables, including social, Eating-Dieting, psychological, physical, and economic, that can predict in highly accurate the BMI value of adolescents according to various criteria. However, there is still a huge lack of research on overweight and obesity in the United Arab Emirates, as this study only focus on adolescents aged 14-17 in Abu Dhabi, and before generalizing the results to the entire population, I recommend that other future studies will include all of these categories UAE population. Not just residents of Abu Dhabi. In addition, more mediation research in this area should be conducted to educate the people of the UAE on the importance of these studies.

Thabet-Musab_Socio-demographic characteristics, body image, self-esteem and their associations with overweight and obesity among Emirati adolescents living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.pdf - Published Version

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