x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Healthy living skills all children need

Young people in the UAE often make poor nutrition choices; that's one reason their health is not what it should be. Schools, along with parents, have a role in reversing this.

When Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad) launched its "Food Dome" programme in February - modelled after America's nutrition pyramid - sugary snacks and sloth were put on notice.

The idea, said Haad official Dr Arwa Almodwahi, was to help children "understand what it means to eat healthy".

But anyone who has taken a stroll by a fast-food restaurant knows that children are not always the best judges of what to put in their bellies. After all it's a rare child indeed who chooses a bowl of steamed broccoli over a chocolate bar or a bucket of fried chicken.

We're all in favour of giving children information on healthy living. In a nation with high rates of diabetes and an ongoing battle with obesity, smart eating habits must be developed at a young age. And eating well starts with knowing what's healthy.

But as recent data suggests, children aren't always getting the message.

New numbers from the Abu Dhabi health-services company, Seha, are an indication that children in the UAE are still eating poorly. As we reported yesterday, the rates of dental problems and obesity are so high - 64 per cent and 29 per cent respectively - that government officials themselves call the results "shocking and worrying". Incidences of other health problems, notably anaemia, were also alarmingly high.

Of course it is parents who are ultimately responsible for their children's health. But adults have their own battles with these same health problems; Haad reports that as many as 70 per cent of adult Emiratis in Abu Dhabi are overweight.

Schools can and should take up some of the slack. Health education programmes teaching, for example, dental hygiene have proven effective around the world. When children are given the keys to proper nutrition and hygiene - taught to eat fatty foods in moderation, for instance - they live longer and are healthier. These are basic lessons teachers, school administrators and educators can share.

Bad diets are not just bad for the individual. They are burdens on national health-care budgets; heart disease, high blood pressure and other ailments all drag on the economy.

This is not the first time children have failed in eating habits. But as this week's data release makes plain, the lesson has still not been learnt.