x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Children's poor eating habits 'because they don't dine with parents'

A survey finds that healthy lessons taught at family table are being lost as many teenagers are spending their allowance on fast food.

DUBAI // Children are using their pocket money to eat out, dining away from their parents who could help them make better food choices, a study of high school pupils has found. The Emirates Foundation survey found that teenagers were spending most of their allowances on food, without any guidance from parents or school staff over what to eat.

"It is not just money for snacks," said Naz Awan, a lecturer at the British University, who led the study. "It is money to be able to go out and buy meals for themselves and their friends. "Their incomes allow them to engage in leisure activities, like going out to dinner, which is usually the preserve of adult life." Traditionally, children learnt what and how much to eat from their parents during meal times, Ms Awan said. When youngsters were allowed to make their own decisions without that guidance, they missed out on important cultural education, she added.

Rania al Halawani, a nutritionist based in Dubai, agreed. "In the past, children would get food from their house," she said. "This way was better because there was supervision and control. Now, parents have no idea what their children are buying and eating." The survey, conducted last December, involved four classes at two Dubai high schools. It found that all pupils ate snacks between meals, half of them three times a day or more. The most popular choices were doughnuts, crisps, chocolate pastries and pies.

"They're spending it on what they like and what they like is not healthy," Ms Awan said. The study discovered the presence of several well-known factors behind obesity, such as a lack of exercise and an abundance of fast food. However, it also found that the children's economic independence was a significant factor. According to the United Nations, the UAE has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world. One in eight children in this country are affected.

"In the past, people were active all day until they'd go to sleep," said Maitha Hassan, who helped with the project. "The food hasn't changed a lot. Traditional food is full of fat, but with their lifestyle being so active they didn't need to worry." The study found that 80 per cent of girls and 70 per cent of boys did not enjoy sports as they found them arduous and boring. @Email:amcmeans@thenational.ae