x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lessons in healthy eating on the menu

More than 50 government schools are to monitor pupils' health, lunch boxes and physical activity in attempt to tackle obesity and malnutrition.

A young boy makes his choice in school's cafeteria shortly before lunch break at the Butti Public School in Bani Yas. The very limited choices included white-flower pasta with sauce, white-bread buns, sugary juice packs, chips, crackers, and sweets. The only fresh food was only in pictures on a plastic table cloth.
A young boy makes his choice in school's cafeteria shortly before lunch break at the Butti Public School in Bani Yas. The very limited choices included white-flower pasta with sauce, white-bread buns, sugary juice packs, chips, crackers, and sweets. The only fresh food was only in pictures on a plastic table cloth.

ABU DHABI// For the next three months, more than 50 government schools in the capital will be monitoring their pupils' health, lunch boxes and physical activity, in an attempt to tackle obesity and malnutrition among the nation's schoolchildren.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) will rate schools according to how much they do to promote their pupils' health.

Last year Seha, Abu Dhabi's health services company, screened 25,778 male and female state school pupils in Grades 1, 5 and 9.

It found that almost a third - 29 per cent -were either overweight or obese and 13 per cent were underweight. Just 58 per cent had a normal weight for their height.

"We need to encourage schools to develop their own health programmes and concentrate on eight elements, including awareness of the community and services to enhance children's wellbeing," said Amer Al Kindi Al Sayari, the health manager at Adec. "Principals will decide what are the most pressing health issues at their schools and develop their action plan accordingly."

Schools that join the challenge will be given a checklist to evaluate their own safety and health standards. In May, they will be judged on their initiatives to promote good habits, provide a safe and healthy environment, physical education plan, extracurricular policies, access to healthcare facilities and their outreach to the community.

Officials said pupils' eating habits were correlated to their performance at school. "A child who has breakfast in the morning will have better concentration and is more active," said Shereena Al Mazrouie, the senior officer of family and school health services.

But many parents allow their children to skip important meals which leads to overeating, she said.

The school environment is also crucial. "Schools need to make sure that the classrooms are safe, the drinking water is clean. All this is a part of promoting good health."

Many principals have complained that despite regulations at school, parents continued to send their children in with unhealthy lunches. "They still bring chips and chocolates to school," said Ameena Al Attas, principal of the Al Noor Cycle1 School (Grades 1-5).

"We have many cases of overweight children and at least five or six are diabetic as well."

They try counselling the parents and the nurse holds sessions with the children. "We take away the fatty food if we see them carrying any at school."

Schools have until January 17 to register for the programme and will be given training workshops to help staff implement it.

aahmed@thenational.ae