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A weighty issue...

By Reem Antoon

According to new statistics nearly a third of schoolchildren in Abu Dhabi are obese or overweight!

Thirty per cent of six to 18-year-olds are either obese or overweight, according to the latest statistics from Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad).

And nearly 10pc of children under the age of five in the emirate are anaemic.

What I found quite interesting and somewhat surprising for me is that UAE schoolchildren are 1.8 times more obese than US children!

Despite this, Haad says its school-based “Eat Right, Get Active” programme, which aims to improve the health of students through healthy eating habits and physical activity, is achieving results.

“The programme was brought in because there are challenges in eating habits and physical activity in Abu Dhabi among children,” says Dr Jennifer Moore, the section head for maternal and child health at Haad.

“It’s important for children to learn healthy behaviours early on in their life about healthy eating and physical activity.

The percentage of schools offering at least three physical exercise classes of 40 minutes per week rose from 33pc to 60pc and the percentage of schools offering sports programmes after school hours rose from 26pc to 46pc.

“It’s very important to have a school programme that’s supported by parent involvement, because children are at school and then they go home and they eat the food that’s served at home,” says Dr Moore.

Obesity has become one of the main public health problems worldwide.

And yes childhood obesity rate is growing very fast in developed and developing countries.

When I read articles on this subject, I get alarmed and saddened somewhat. I mean I realise that parents are more often than not, after their children to eat and not go hungry, but I wonder at times, how much they focus on what they are feeding their children rather than just feeding them!

Bahraini professor and nutritionist Abdulrahman Musaiger says childhood obesity has reached an alarming level in the Arab Gulf states, including Bahrain.

He says health authorities in Bahrain along with other Arab Gulf countries have become more aware about the health and economic burden of obesity and need to develop a plan of action to prevent and control of obesity.

“The need for comprehensive data on the prevalence of overweight and obesity is essential for planning of any intervention programme to combat obesity in school children in Bahrain,” says Professor Musaiger.

Several factors contribute to the high prevalence of obesity among Bahraini children, such as high intake of energy density foods, sedentary lifestyle and inactivity.

The dietary habits of school children in Bahrain, says Dr Musaiger, is characterised by the high consumption of fast food, sweets and chocolates as well as sugary beverages and the low consumption of fruits, vegetables and milk.

“Sedentary lifestyle has increased among Bahraini school children, with long viewing of television and long use of video games and Internet,” says Professor Musaiger.

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