It is enough to fill some parents with horror – while others might see it simply as expressing their love. Toddlers as young as one are being packed off to nursery with leftover Popeye's fried chicken, stale French fries, cupcakes and tinned sausages. Staff at Blooming Buds nursery in Abu Dhabi were so appalled by the sugary, fat-filled treats they found in children's lunchboxes that they began outsourcing catering to a healthy eating firm supplying organic lunches and snacks.
The nursery is almost certainly not the only institution facing an ongoing battle to educate children – and their parents – on healthy eating. More than one third of children in the UAE are obese, meaning they run a greater risk of developing conditions such as diabetes and heart disease in later life. Last month gastroenterologist Dr Ahmad Jarrar from Sheikh Khalifa Medical City said the hospital was planning to offer gastric balloon treatment to children as young as 11 to deal with the burgeoning obesity epidemic. The procedure involves inserting a balloon filled with saline solution down the throat into the stomach to make the patient feel fuller and lose up to 15 per cent of their body weight. It is an extreme, shockingly invasive procedure but tragically, it is no longer unusual. In the UK where the treatment was trialled, children had to weigh a minimum of 88kg, double the average body weight for their age, but there was no shortage of candidates.
The parents packing their children off to nursery with lunchboxes filled with fattening snacks no doubt think they are merely treating their offspring and showing how much they love them – but it is the kind of love that could eventually kill them. Toddlers are too young to be making sensible choices about what food they eat. It is up to parents to show them by example and by controlling what they eat, they can spare them a life of misery and ill health. It is all too easy to develop bad habits, particularly at a young age and a lot harder to shake them once they are learned behaviour. The nursery in question has begun an awareness campaign to teach parents how to make healthier choices for their children. That is a start. What children learn at nursery, school and home will be ingrained in them for life. Parents who make better decisions about what they eat early on are helping ensure that life is a longer, healthier one for their child.