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Lack of exercise can prove expensive for Emiratis in the long term

Unhealthy children often grow up to be unhealthy adults, with consequences for them and the whole of society.

There can be few wiser pieces of advice about nutrition and health than that from chef and father-of-three Ayoub Makdissi, as reported in The National yesterday.

Mr Makdissi admitted that making home-cooked meals for his children was more time-consuming and costly than buying fast food, but said it was an investment in their future: "If you don't spend money on healthy food and buy junk food instead, then you will go to the hospital later and spend the money there. So it is the same." The truth at the heart of his statement also applies to exercise.

Mr Makdissi was quoted in a report on a large survey, carried out for Al Aan TV's Nabd Al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) programme and The National by YouGov, about family eating habits. The results made sobering reading.

Of particular concern is the lack of physical exercise among children. Many children - 40 per cent - apparently do no exercise at all. To be sure, the weather in the UAE can make outdoor sports and activities difficult at some seasons, but there are some activities, from indoor or outdoor swimming to indoor martial arts and the like, that parents could persuade their children to take part in year-round.

Another finding showed how common fast food - junk food, if you prefer - has become. This reality of modern life should be seen in context. There is nothing wrong with such meals - if they are not too frequent and if they are eaten by people, young and old, who get enough exercise.

The wider problem, as this newspaper has noted previously, is that there are few indoor or outdoor neighbourhood public spaces where children can run around. Many, if not most, residents in the capital live in apartments, making it essential that there be public spaces for exercise. There will be some movement on this: as The National reported last week, 40 new community centres, with leisure facilities, are to be completed across Abu Dhabi by 2016.

The survey also found that only 47 per cent of youngsters appear to take part in organised exercise at school.

Physical education classes are mandatory in public schools but not in private schools, but evidently many students do not participate. As many youngsters have no other outlet for their energy, it is of concern that parents are allowing their children to opt-out of these classes - or are unaware of their children's lack of attendance.

This whole issue demands attention from families, educators, and officials. Unhealthy children often grow up to be unhealthy adults, with consequences for them and for all of society.

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