Holidays may seem like the perfect time to indulge. What with all those days lounging on the beach, it’s easy to banish your exercise regime and throw your diet to the wind. But if you think you need some motivation to stick to those healthy eating and exercise habits, how about your kids?
Experts at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi confirm that diabetes is on the rise in the UAE. In fact, recent statistics indicate that nearly 20 per cent of the UAE population has some type of diabetes. Even worse, diabetes can actually lead to further health problems before you even realise you have it. ‘Diabetes is so hard on the heart,’ says Dr Maha Barakat of ICLDC, ‘that some experts have suggested redefining diabetes as a cardiovascular or vascular disease.’
Furthermore, since 2003, the number of women with pre-diabetic symptoms in the 20-30 age group has vastly increased. Barakat says, ‘More tests on women are needed. Women are often neglected when it comes to diabetes because they traditionally have a better prognosis, but we need to start looking in women of all ages.’
But it’s not just your own health you need to watch, it’s also the health of your children. While some programmes, like the I Eat Right campaign supported by Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, target children – teaching proper eating and exercise habits – a greater effort needs to be made to change the habits children learn at home. Dr Barakat cites the success of programmes in which children have convinced their parents to stop smoking and hopes that with enough education, children will become the catalysts that improve the eating and exercise habits for the entire family.
However, while most children don’t want to smoke themselves, it is a very rare child who will turn down cake in favour of fruit, or will ask for vegetables when sweets are on offer. The temptation of junk food is so powerful, in fact, that many schools and nurseries forbid parents to pack snacks for their children that are not healthy. Vanessa Boson, director at Bright Beginnings Nursery School in Mirdif, Dubai, says, ‘Children are not allowed to have chocolate, sweets, sodas or crisps here. If one child brings something that isn’t healthy, all the other children want the same, so to set a good example and to avoid fights and other disruptions, we don’t allow any foods that aren’t healthy in the school.’
The bottom line is that, even if you’re not particularly concerned about your own health, you are teaching your children by the example you set, whether you like it or not.
These tips will help keep both you and your little ones on the road to good heart health:
• Clean out the cupboard. Visual cues are especially powerful for children, and if they can’t see the crisps, they’re less likely to beg you for them. Have plenty of fruit available and out in plain sight.
• Balance your diet. A well balanced diet includes proteins and carbohydrates as well as fruit and vegetables. The occasional treat is fine, if it’s something special.
• Shop right. Kids can’t begin to make healthy food choices if the healthy option isn’t on offer. Avoid those aisles devoted entirely to biscuits and chocolate.
• Plan ahead. It’s easier to stick with a good eating plan when meals have been prepared in advance. Use free time on the weekends to plan meals, then prep what you can and stock up your freezer. You’ll be less likely to resort to the deadly takeaway if a healthy dinner is already waiting.
• Exercise, exercise, exercise. More than anything else, an active lifestyle will stave off the plethora of evils that result from poor food choices. There are a number of different sporty events for youngster available. Including the MyGym Summer Camp, which takes place on Jumeirah Beach Road, until August 30. Call 04 394 3962, or visit www.mygymuae.com. Or InSportz Camp, until August 28, for ages seven and above. Call 04 347 5833 or visit www.insportzclub.com
• Slim people are not exempt. Barakat points out that visceral fat can build up around the organs even in people who are visibly thin, harming internal organs. Only exercise will reduce this killer fat.