Worried about your child’s eating habits? With approximately one third of children in the UAE either overweight or obese, we ask Dr Mirey Karavetian, Nutritionist, Genesis Perinatal Care Clinic, and Lecturer at Zayed University, how we can tackle this ever-increasing problem…
Q.) What is being done to stop child obesity?
Awareness campaigns are being used all over the world to increase the knowledge of all stakeholders of child obesity to how dangerous it is. In some parts of the world, tax over junk food is decreasing the rates of junk food consumption. Some schools are making sure they provide healthy meals, avoid junk food, provide exciting physical activity classes and provide dieticians in school. But without any radical health care policies that force all stakeholders (parents, educational institutions, ministries of commerce, health and education) to be involved in changing the lifestyle and the environment, the obesity endemic will not decrease.
Q.) Are parents to blame?
Parental lifestyle habits are the dominant influence. The offspring of obese parents have an 80 per cent risk of being obese. Children imitate their parents. The best way to guarantee a healthy person is a healthy start and no better person is there to do that except the parents by being healthy role models from the beginning for the child.
Q.) Should schools take responsibility, too, and tell parents when their children are overweight?
The child spends a huge part of his/her time in school. Nutritional screenings should be integrated within schools systems through collaborations with dieticians.
Q.) Should schools ban junk food on the premises?
Banning junk food in schools is an on-going struggle between education authorities and the food industry; where in some countries the situation looks more promising than in others. This process is done by having the education ministry partner with the health ministry and develop bylaws of foods allowed and not allowed within educational institutions in parallel to a penalty plan for incompliance. In some parts of UAE this is being applied but huge amounts of effort is still needed to make it a country-wide policy and successfully ban junk food form all schools in UAE.
Q.) Should schools in Dubai have more compulsory sporting activities?
Physical Activity (PA) classes are overlooked in many schools in UAE, where the academic programme is considered superior over the PA classes, and often the latter is cancelled or replaced with makeup classes for other subjects. Moreover, PA teachers often are not the most enthusiastic teachers within schools ready to find innovative methods to engage students in sports activities. More efforts should be done to have students enjoy their PA classes, since we know that healthy minds can be made only from healthy bodies.