x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

An apple a day - or maybe two

The Ministry of Health is serious about encouraging healthy eating habits, and its staff ate thousands of apples, bananas and oranges to prove it.

DUBAI // The Ministry of Health is serious about encouraging healthy eating habits, and its staff ate thousands of apples, bananas and oranges to prove it. As part of an initiative to encourage its staff to look after their health, two free pieces of fruits were handed out to more than 350 workers at the ministry's offices in Dubai during the last week of January. That amounts to 3,500 pieces of fruit, give or take a melon.

This is just the first step of many changes to come this year in the ministry's work environment. "We want to show our employees that it's not hard to live a healthy life; it only requires a few easy changes that we are going to help them make," said Nour Khamis, an educator at the ministry's health education and promotion department. The Ministry hopes that its efforts will serve as an example, inspiring other employers to provide a healthy working environment for employees and address key areas conducive to healthy living in both the public and private sectors.

"We have different activities planned throughout the year in four key areas for our employees: healthy nutrition, stress management, quitting smoking and increasing physical activity," said Ms Khamis, who added that the programme works through awareness and prevention. "We distributed fruits for that first week to show our employees how easy it is to substitute their usual snacks, like chips, chocolates or other unhealthy options, with fruits instead," she said.

"We want to instil new, healthy habits in the community, through small and simple steps that can be easily applied. We are not asking them to go join a gym or start a diet; we are showing that living a healthy life does not have to be difficult or a hassle," she said. Ms Khamis said that 83 per cent of the employees admitted to eating more fruit than usual during that week and 87 per cent said they are motivated to continue substituting their usual snacks with healthy options such as fruits, even after the end of the free distribution.

Fatima al Marzooqi, also a health educator at the ministry, said the next step will be getting employees to increase their physical activity through a "direct and straightforward way like encouraging them to take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, which will make them aware of the importance of such moves in their daily lives". hkhalaf@thenational.ae