Covid-19 worsens childhood obesity in the UAE, new study finds

The Ministry of Health and Prevention survey says pupils are not getting enough exercise

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Pupils in the UAE are less active, more obese and spending more time on their electronic devices because of Covid-19, a survey by the Ministry of Health and Prevention has found.

A study of 27,754 parents found that pupils were 46 per cent less physically active than before the pandemic.

The use of electronic devices for education and entertainment has increased during the past 12 months.

The lack of physical activity, coupled with the increase in the use of electronic devices and ordering food from restaurants, has led to a rise in obesity levels.

More than half of the parents surveyed (51.9 per cent) said they reduced orders for food delivery, while 19.7 per cent said they increased their online food delivery orders.

Sleep deprivation has also increased in children. The pandemic has also had an adverse impact on the mental health of nearly half of Emirati pupils who were polled.

The survey found disabled children needed regular physiotherapy sessions to get rid of the negative impacts of the pandemic.

Dr Hussein Abdul Rahman Al Rand, assistant under-secretary for centres and health clinics at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, said the study would be used to update the health database of pupils.

The findings will be used to support the state's healthcare planning strategies and improve the quality of services after the pandemic.

“Through the outcomes, a number of health indicators of the national agenda will be updated, especially obesity, physical activity, and healthy food among children," he said.

"In the meantime, a set of programmes and initiatives will be prepared to come up with proper solutions to the challenges imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic on the public health of school pupils."

Dr Naglaa Sajwani, head of the school health department at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, said it was important for families to adopt healthy habits at home, such as getting the right nutrition and exercising inside or around the home.

She said pupils should be educated on the proper way of using electronic devices "in order to prevent their negative effects, including obesity, back pain, and vision problems".

Pupils should also get enough sleep, Dr Sajwani said.

The survey was conducted by the Ministry of Health and Prevention in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.