x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

To promote health, improve awareness

Knowledge about how to eat right eludes many UAE residents in the fight against weight gain.

It doesn't take a health expert to know that vegetables and fruits are healthier than fried foods and sweets. Following a blueprint to healthy living, however, seems a lot more difficult.

As The National reported yesterday, the results of a recent Al Aan TV survey, compiled by the Nabd al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) programme and carried out by YouGov Siraj, show that more than half of the UAE's residents do nor exercise regularly and have no clear idea if what they are eating is healthy.

Over 80 per cent of those quizzed claimed that they dine healthily and pay attention to what they eat. However, on further questioning, 55 per cent of respondents admitted to not exercising regularly. Almost as many (49 per cent) said they did not watch their fat and sugar intake.

For a country with disturbing levels of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, such numbers show a worrying lack of awareness for adults, never mind children.

"I know I shouldn't eat junk food more than once a week at most, or that I should exercise regularly, or not eat too late, but how do we realistically incorporate these rules into our lives?" said Maysoon Baraky, an Al Aan presenter.

This problem is exacerbated for the younger generations. Rightly or wrongly, this region relies heavily on the services of maids and nannies while parents pursue their careers. This can mean that children often grow up without supervision from health-conscious, disciplined parents.

"Don't tell me every working woman can provide a healthy, from-scratch meal for her family three times a day while keeping house and doing her job and caring for her family and finding time to exercise," Ms Baraky said. "People know what needs to be done, but they think it's too hard to do."

An increased reliance on fast food deliveries, easy transportation and a lack of sporting opportunities mean that children's health risks are becoming progressively worse with each generation. Schools must take their share of responsibility. Provision of healthy meal options, health awareness and compulsory physical education classes must be made as much of a priority as academic concerns.

Child obesity and diabetes are problems that need urgent attention, and authorities, schools and parents owe it to the children to act now.