x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

School dinners go from sinners to winners to cut childhood obesity

Sweets are being swapped for fruit for pupils in Sharjah

SHARJAH // // Junk food is being expelled from schools as part of a push to reduce childhood obesity.

Nearly 13,000 pupils at primary and secondary schools will be served more fruit, vegetables and healthy meals at lunchtimes.

The sale of sweets, chocolate and soft drinks will be phased out and replaced by healthier snacks.

The move is part of a Government plan to make sure all public-school canteens meet strict new rules on food safety, hygiene and health.

“Our teams overseeing the programme ensure that all school canteens are clean and that the food being sold to students is healthy and not junk food,” said Aisha Saif Al Ameen, secretary general of Sharjah Education Council.

“They also make sure prices are fixed, affordable and uniform in all schools.”

Students pay about Dh2.5 for snacks, with meals costing between Dh5 and Dh7.

Maysoon Al Shaali, the head of nutrition and continuous medical education at Sharjah Education Zone, said providing healthy meals to students was important to school chiefs and parents.

“The most concern for parents these days is unhealthy food that increases obesity among their children,” Ms Al Shaali said.

Obese children can develop high blood pressure and high cholesterol and are more prone to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney problems and type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

The new school year starts tomorrow. Meals prepared in 104 canteens for 12,800 students will be monitored on the orders of the Ruler of Sharjah, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, said Ms Al Shaali.

The education council has asked each school to supervise standards in canteens and the quality of food served to pupils, and to report all breaches of the rules.

“School administrations have to actively participate in these endeavours to secure the lives of their students and prevent the risks of obesity, diabetes and food poisoning happening in schools,” Ms Al Ameen said.

Schoolchildren in the UAE are 1.8 times more obese than children in the US, according to studies conducted by the cardiology department at Saif bin Ghubash Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah.

The latest statistics from the Health Authority Abu Dhabi found that 30 per cent of youngsters between the ages of 6 and 18 in the emirate were either obese or overweight.

Ms Al Ameen said canteen staff had also been instructed to store milk and dairy products and fruit juices in refrigerators. The number of refrigerators in each canteen is to be increased.

The authorities have promised to be strict should their rules be broken, from hygiene-related issues to the late delivery of food, Ms Al Shaali said.

“Late deliveries could make the school administration buy food outside from uninspected shops, which could be dangerous,” she said. Health breaches would be referred to the municipality.

A spokesman said regular inspections were carried out at restaurants, bakeries and other food shops licensed to supply schools.

Those who break the rules receive a warning but repeated offences could result in their contract being cancelled, the spokesman said.