How to deal with childhood obesity in the UAE

Ways to shrink the growing problem

How to deal with childhood obesity in the UAE
How to deal with childhood obesity in the UAE Image #2

The number of overweight children is on the rise across the world, but while childhood obesity isn’t just a local problem, the statistics are alarmingly high in the UAE.

“In the UAE, the prevalence of childhood obesity continues to increase,” states Dr Mohammed Al Hadad, head of bariatric and metabolic surgery, consultant bariatric surgeon at Healthpoint. “In fact, according to the Ministry of Health and Prevention’s latest statistics the prevalence of obesity amongst children between the ages of five and 17 in the UAE was 14.45% in 2018.”

So why does the region have such high rates of childhood obesity? Badad explains that there are many factors at play, but that the major causes are sedentary behaviour and unhealthy eating habits.

“Additionally, mental factors such as stressful life events, depression and other psychological problems can lead to over-eating or eating disorders and, as a result, may also lead to childhood obesity, adds Badad.

“Medical factors like genetics, family history and endocrine disorders may also play a role.”

Around 224 million children around the world are overweight, making obesity one of the biggest public health issues concerning youngsters today and there is a very real focus on how we combat the problem.

“Organisations like the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) have been involved in many childhood obesity activities and initiatives in the US and even endorsed the American Heart Association’s (AHA) FIT Kids Act,” Badad says.

But what is being done here? “The UAE has implemented several initiatives to combat the chronic disease including the sin tax on sugary drinks, new health policies that stipulate more physical exercise and less junk food for students,” Badad explains.

“In Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Childhood Obesity taskforce, of which I am part, has developed a comprehensive plan to address childhood obesity in the emirate. The aim is to eventually increase physical activity by 15 percent and reduce the average body mass index by 15 percent by 2020.”

The medical community is focused on preventing the disease and now recognise the fact that overweight parents are more likely to have overweight children.

Parents naturally have a huge part to play. Teaching kids about healthy lifestyle choices simply isn’t enough, mums and dads need to lead by example as ultimately our children follow in our footsteps and our habits are passed down to them.

“I always tell parents that since lifestyle factors play a crucial role in developing childhood obesity, they should implement healthier lifestyle choices, not only for children, but for themselves” Badad says.

Badad explains that he tells parents not to deprive their children from having the occasional treat, but instead encourage them to help their children understand that treats are not every day food.

“At the same time, I advise them not to label food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, to provide enough vegetables in their children’s diet, and not to use food as a reward.”

As well as the physical consequences of being overweight – bone and joint diseases, heart diseases, trouble sleeping and sleep apnea, high blood pressure, type two diabetes, breathing problems and metabolic syndrome – the mental and psychological ramifications include having lower self-esteem and body dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety and disordered eating among various other illnesses and disorders.

In addition to the work of the medical community and of parents, how else can we prevent obesity in our children? Dr Badad says that schools have a pivotal role to play too.

“Unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles are largely to blame for the epidemic of childhood obesity. Children spend most of their time at school and this is where most of their lifestyle habits, which survive to adulthood, are established,” says Badad.

“This is why school-based nutritional policies and programmes that encourage and teach healthy eating habits among schoolchildren are important. Physical activity lessons and education in school or after school have also been shown to be successful in preventing childhood obesity.”

Tackling obesity is a long journey that requires great determination, a journey in which we all have a critical role to play if we are to ensure a brighter, leaner future for our kids.

Don’t let them eat cake
Let them indulge in these healthy meals instead

Petit Gourmet
Meals are prepared every morning with the healthiest ingredients, packed individually and delivered straight to nurseries and schools around Dubai in cute little lunch boxes. Each order includes both breakfast and lunch.
From Dhs30 (per day for breakfast and lunch). Sun-Thu 8.30am-6.30pm. (050 772 8824).

Yum in a Box UAE
With a focus on making nutrition fun, each meal comes in colourful packaging and contains games and fun characters that little ones will love. On the menu you’ll find choices for breakfasts, lunches, snacks and smoothies.
From Dhs18 (per day for lunch). (050 158 3564).

Leela’s Lunches
Taking the hassle out of healthy, Leela’s Lunches delivers freshly-made, nutritious lunches, desserts and snacks to nurseries across Dubai. Parents can choose from a range of menus to give their little ones a well-balanced diet, where hidden veggies and fruit are the main ingredient of each dish. (055 130 5556).

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