Correlates of Dietary Behaviors Among Young Emirati Males Completing Compulsory Military Service

Ahmad M Malkawi*, Ree M Meertens, Stef P J Kremers, Ester F C van der Borgh-Sleddens, Gareth C Picknell, Mouza Al Shehhi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


INTRODUCTION: It is important to understand the correlates of different dietary behaviors in a military context in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to guide intervention development to prevent and treat obesity as it has a significant impact at the country and regional level. This study aimed to assess different dietary behaviors and their association with potential correlates including age, marital status, educational level, smoking status, screen time, dietary knowledge, eating self-efficacy, and general self-efficacy.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: The study used a cross-sectional design and included 153 (M = 25.9 years, SD = ± 3.2) military recruits completing their basic training at a single military camp in the UAE. Dietary behaviors of these recruits were measured using the Arab Teens Lifestyle Study. Other potential correlates included dietary knowledge, general self-efficacy, and eating efficacy. The ethical approval was obtained from the research ethics committee in the UAE university.

RESULTS: Daily intake of fruits, vegetables, and breakfast was reported by 14.4%, 25.5%, and 22.9% of the military recruits, respectively. Almost half of the recruits (46.4%) consumed sugar-sweetened drinks more than 3 times a week, 39.2% consumed fast food more than 3 times a week, and 37.3% consumed sweets/chocolates more than 3 times a week. Bivariate regression analyses revealed that eating self-efficacy was positively associated with breakfast and dairy food consumption, although it was inversely associated with sugar, fast-food, and French fries intake. Age was significantly and inversely associated with sugar, fast-food, and energy drink intake. Moreover, nutrition knowledge was significantly and positively correlated with vegetable intake and negatively correlated with energy drink consumption. Multiple regressions showed that lower age and lower eating self-efficacy were found to be the main predictors for sugar-sweetened drinks (adjusted R2 = 0.112) and fast-food intake (adjusted R2 = 0.084). Also, a higher dietary knowledge score was a predictor of vegetable intake (adjusted R2 = 0.093), although age and smoking predict energy drink intake (adjusted R2 = 0.225).

CONCLUSIONS: The results show that unhealthy eating patterns are common among new recruits in the UAE military. The study suggests that age, eating self-efficacy, and nutrition knowledge are the main correlates of selected dietary behaviors. Interventions are advised to target these correlates to achieve healthier dietary habits inside the military.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3488–3495
Number of pages8
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number11-12
Early online date8 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023




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