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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

A healthy diet provides the fuel for healthy grades

New initiative to encourage nutritious eating will pay dividends in the future

Parents will need to pack healthy lunches for there children under new rules from the Ministry of Education. Delores Johnson / The National 
Parents will need to pack healthy lunches for there children under new rules from the Ministry of Education. Delores Johnson / The National 

All parents want their children to excel in school, both academically and socially. With such successes come professional fulfilment, strong relationships and financial stability later in life. And yet many parents might unwittingly be hindering their child’s development with junk food. As The National has reported, one in three children in the UAE is overweight or obese, a condition with scores of health implications, from heart disease to diabetes. At present, too few parents make the link between poor diet and academic attainment. Ensuring that children eat nutritious, healthy meals at school improves concentration and focus and allows young people to maximise their potential. Indeed, multiple studies have proven that children who eat more fruit and vegetables perform better on literacy tests, compared to those with high-fat diets. Ultimately, better food leads to improvements in health, behaviour and grades.

That is why the Ministry of Education – which stopped the sale of chocolate, soft drinks and crisps in government schools in 2011 – is engaging directly with parents to improve nutrition by implementing a lunchbox ban on certain foods. Parents are also being urged to restrict pocket money that children waste on unhealthy favourites. And for good reason – foods with high fat and salt contents hinder brain development and can cause a host of issues, from anaemia to vitamin deficiencies. Legislation will always help, but much of the eating and preparation of food is done in the home. Further awareness campaigns are vital to tackle this problem.

Children themselves are the final obstacle. Most do not give a second thought to the long-term health and developmental implications of popular junk food. Fortunately, Dubai-based Yacob Intelligent Health, which just secured Dh440,700 in government-backed funding, has set out to change that. Its points-based food tracking system rewards children for healthy choices at school and is currently in use in 47 UAE institutions. Innovations like this will help change the behaviour of pupils, from consumers of low-quality junk food to advocates for healthy eating. And they will take that message into adult life, with positive implications for society at large.

Updated: January 26, 2019 06:41 PM

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