Campaign aims to put milk back on the menu
ABU DHABI // Hessa Ismail Al Mulla used to be repelled by the idea of drinking milk - until a university project changed her mind.
As with many of her peers, the 24-year-old Emirati student at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi didn't like the taste of fresh milk.
But then she was given an assignment to show its health benefits - and now drinks it every day.
"Ninety per cent of students told us they didn't drink fresh milk," she said. They are far from alone as indicated by the region's high rates of Vitamin D deficiency.
A recent study found that 73 per cent of people - and 84 per cent of women - in the Middle East lack the vitamin, found in milk, which strengthens bones, boosts the immune system and lowers the risk of diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
"They are the mothers of the next generation so we really wanted to educate them for their children to drink milk in the future," said Ms Al Mulla's fellow campaigner, Mariam Al Zaabi, 24.
Together with three other classmates they drew up a "Drink Haleeb" - or drink milk - campaign as part of their public relations degrees.
"The main idea was to make people aware about the health benefits of milk and dairy products," said 24-year-old Fatima Mohammed Al Ali.
"The reason behind the campaign is the increasing number of people who suffer from calcium deficiency, which is a serious problem for UAE society for the future."
The young women wrote and delivered a lecture on the dangers of calcium deficiency, including the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, arthritis and high blood pressure.
The group also brought in chiropractors and experts from Khalifa Hospital and the head of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority's nutritional analysis unit to talk about the components of milk and dairy products during the one-day event at the university.
Part of the problem, they decided, was that the food on offer at the university's canteen lacked appealing dairy items. "We wanted our canteen to start providing different flavours of milk and dairy products every day for the students," Ms Ali said.
The girls introduced camel, cow and sheep milk to the students by dressing up stuffed animals in abayas "to make them feel like they can relate to them". The most popular was the camel milk, she said.
"We also included live cooking with milk by Emirati chefs and we made a 26-page booklet on the history of milk in the UAE for them," Ms Zaabi said.
Now they want to make the campaign an annual event.
"We're very enthusiastic about it," said Ms Mulla. "We want to start introducing it to other establishments."
Updated: July 29, 2011 04:00 AM