Healthy eating is one of the best investments a person can make

Governments, including the UAE's, are rightly trying to get people to eat better

Some experts say people should have seven or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day. The National
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Eating well is one of the most powerful ways to stay healthy. It is also one of the simplest. A salmon fillet will provide purer omega-3 than any top-shelf supplement. For a tiny cost, oats offer a panoply of nutrients.

Unsurprisingly, then, eating badly is dangerous, even life threatening. A poor diet can greatly increase the chance of illness, both mentally and physically.

One of the most dangerous food-related maladies of the 21st century is obesity. It has nearly tripled since 1975, according to the World Health Organisation. Sufferers are at increased risk of a vast amount of major health issues, from stroke to clinical depression.

With these grave facts in mind, it is important to remember one thing: obesity is preventable. A huge industry has grown up around fulfilling this mission. From operations to apps, there are plenty of options available, some far more based in science than others.

Nothing substitutes education, however. And that is where governments have a particularly important part to play. It is one that, for their own sake, they should embrace. The burden obesity puts on a healthcare systems is significant. Between 2014 to 2015, the British National Health Service spent more than £6 billion ($7bn) on overweight and obesity-related illnesses.

That is why Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre's (ADPHC) decision to launch a healthy eating campaign is so important. The Sehhi nutrition programme involves placing a special logo on food items that are deemed healthy. It can be used at outlets including supermarkets, grocery shops and restaurants. Key criteria for getting the stamp of approval are that items are low in fat, sugar and salt, and high in fibre. Calorie counts will also be included on menus.

Dr Omniyat Al Hajeri, executive director of community health for ADPHC, said: "The Sehhi programme will support and empower the community to make well-informed decisions when it comes to the consumption of food."

The scheme recognises the major impact that government action can have on making people healthier. In recent years, authorities have tried to tackle the problem through top-down intervention in a number of ways. Labelling is one, and others include extra taxation on unhealthy products, plain packaging and limiting children's exposure to advertising.

Take smoking, another unhealthy habit many governments are targetting. According to a report published in The Lancet Medical Journal, a 2012 advertising campaign in the US motivated 1.6 million smokers to try and quit, with more than 100,000 quitting entirely.

Tackling bad nutrition habits is a different problem to smoking, although many of the same lessons could be learned. Strategies like Abu Dhabi's strike the balance between proactive government policy and personal responsibility. Labels will not stop people eating unhealthy food, nor are they trying to. Rather, they are about empowering consumers and making sure food manufacturers are transparent.

Any visitor to the UAE will attest to the fact that the country has a wide variety of excellent food, thanks to a diverse society and an appreciation for quality. Indeed, Michelin has just released its first guide for Dubai, which recognised the city's reputation as a culinary centre. The more consumers are informed about how to structure a balanced diet, the more people can enjoy eating in a healthy manner.

Published: August 26, 2022, 3:00 AM