UAE prepares double-pronged assault on nutrition in schools

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Abu dhabi, Nutrition, Obesity

Dubai’s municipal authorities will soon begin to apply updated nutrition guidelines in school canteens to encourage healthier choices, while Abu Dhabi is engaging a task force to wage war on over-nutrition.

The food safety department of Dubai Municipality has already begun to conduct meetings with strategic partners and government agencies to direct the move ahead of its implementation.

Though many schools in the emirate offer healthy options in their canteens, experts believe there are still too many calorie-laden menu items.

The move follows a similar food-labelling rule for restaurants to reveal the true calorie content of meals, announced by the municipality and Dubai Health Authority in January.

"Applying the new nutrition guidelines is part of our contribution to the implementation of the national agenda, which has put clear goals for dealing with child nutrition​," said Noura Abdulla Al Shamsi, head of the municipality’s applied nutrition section. 

She said childhood obesity is currently one of the emirate’s biggest public-health challenges, after two decades of lightning lifestyle disease growth that is widely seen as the result of poor nutrition. 

"Recent studies have indicated that more than 34% of children in the UAE suffer from either obesity or being overweight,” said Al Shamsi. 

“These studies anticipate school children suffering from obesity will continue with that through their adulthood​. 

Obesity is attributed largely to lifestyle in the UAE: choosing of foods high in calories and low nutritional value with easy access to them, and poor nutritional culture​.”

In neighbouring Abu Dhabi, a 12-agency government task force has also been planning an assault on over-nutrition, after World Health Organisation figures showed over 15% of pupils in the UAE capital to be obese, while nearly 17% were overweight.

The plan to help reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity, which can be a precursor to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic health conditions in later life, includes guidance and support for early childhood diet and exercise.

It also features programmes to promote healthy nutrition and exercise for school-age Abu Dhabi residents.

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