x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Drive for healthier food in schools

Crisps, chocolate and sweet drinks are to be taken off menus in schools across the country under plans being developed by the Ministry of Education.

Potato chips, croissants, juice and candy bars are some of the snacks offered at Al Safa Secondary School.
Potato chips, croissants, juice and candy bars are some of the snacks offered at Al Safa Secondary School.

Crisps, chocolate and sweet drinks are to be taken off menus in schools across the country under plans being developed by the Ministry of Education. The easy availability of fatty and sugary snacks is blamed in part for the growing childhood obesity problem. United Nations statistics say one in eight children in the country is obese.

Although these items are already forbidden in Abu Dhabi schools, enforcement is erratic. There are no such rules in place for schools in Dubai and the other emirates. Dr Wedad al Maidoor, a member of the Ministry of Education's National Diabetes Committee, said action could not be taken soon enough. "Child obesity is growing in the UAE," she said. "We want to raise awareness among the schoolchildren, and they can carry the message to the homes and parents and they can have effect also that they are asking for the healthy lifestyle."

Changing the canteen menu, however, can only do so much, said Safiya Mohammed, the principal at Alafaq Model School. She said even with a ban it would be a challenge to keep crisps and other junk food out of the school. "Some students bring their lunch boxes," she said. Parents were broadly supportive of the move. "I would prefer not to see junk food in school," said Hadil Aman, a Yemeni engineer whose six children attend private schools in Abu Dhabi. "I think it's a good idea to start educating the pupils with what to eat."

The solution, he said, is to develop habits among the children so that they become accustomed to eating healthy food instead of junk food. "The right education, the right follow-up programme, that might help them to understand what to eat later on and pass that information on to their kids," he said. klewis@thenational.ae