ABU DHABI // When children returning to school yesterday made their first visit of term to the canteen, they found that junk food was off the menu. The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) has ordered all schools, state and private, to stop selling crisps, burgers, chocolate and sugary drinks. Shawarma, ice cream and energy drinks such as Red Bull have also been banned.
The move is part of an effort to tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity. "We have a problem with our new generation and with obesity at an early age," said Mohamed al Reyaysa, the head of communication at the ADFCA. "We know many countries are rethinking the food that they provide in schools and that they are providing for their children." One in eight children in the Emirates is obese, according to the UN.
Parents welcomed efforts to improve children's eating habits. "Aside from our kids not eating natural, good stuff at school, [healthier menu items] will teach them how to eat the right food at school and at home," said Michelle Payawal, whose son is enrolled in the Abu Dhabi Grammar School. "Sometimes if I don't have any food at home, I'll give him crisps for school. But the teachers will call my attention to it and inform my kid as well. Then the next time I give him chips for school my son will tell me it is not allowed."
Another parent said removing junk food from the menu was a step in the right direction, but schools needed to work closely with parents to educate them about food choices. "It's an easy option for parents to just give their child a few dollars," she said. She prepares a lunch each day, and involves her child the decision about which sandwich to make. "These are things we're teaching them all the time. We tell them to eat healthy. In science we're talking about man and food and how to have healthy lifestyles, but there's no point in talking about healthy eating if the canteen doesn't provide it."
The discontinued items were named in regulations issued by the ADFCA, which drew up the new rules in conjunction with the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi Education Council. Some items, such as croissants and manakish, have returned to the menu after being banned last year. The new rules also require content labels to be placed on foods that contain common allergens such as nuts, seafood, eggs, soya beans and wheat.
"This is also a message for the parents to educate children," Mr al Reyaysa said.
"If they have an allergy problem, especially when going to school, or are too young to understand, please let the school know that your son or daughter has a problem so they will know how to guide them."