Rally champ Khalid al Falasi teaches kids about fitness

Champion attends Jebel Ali Primary School to encourage kids to have a healthy lifestyle.

Students practice surfing during health day at Jebel Ali Primary School in Dubai yesterday. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // Dozens of children lay down on floor mats inside a school gymnasium yesterday, their hands beside their bodies as relaxing music played.

Outside the makeshift yoga class, on a grassy field at the Jebel Ali Primary School, the rest of the school's 650 children — aged four to 11 — played rugby, football, cricket and other sports in their shorts and red T-shirts.

The school's fourth annual health day delivered fun with a message. "We try to encourage the kids to have a healthy lifestyle throughout the year, not just today," said Mark Webster, the school's physical education teacher and coordinator of the event. "It's all about getting them active, isn't it?"

Recent studies have shown that children in the Emirates do need to get active.

The UAE has one of the world's highest rates of childhood obesity. According to 2009 United Nations statistics, obesity affects at least one in eight children in the country. And last year, 7,000 students in Abu Dhabi emirate participated in a survey which found that 30 per cent were overweight or obese.

Professor Andreas Boeck, chairman of the Child Health Institute at Al Ain Hospital, said many overweight children will quickly become obese unless someone intervenes.

Joining Mr Webster and other organisers at yesterday's activities was Khalid al Falasi, the UAE champion rally bike rider, who showed off his motorcycle, helmet and full gear. He told the children he had been an overweight boy but shed extra pounds to become a champion.

One detail that stood out on the sports field was the large apple design printed on the back of the children's red T-shirts. The drawing was created by Chloe, a sixth-grade student.

"We had a competition for the children to [create] a health day design, and the winner got the design on all T-shirts," Mr Webster said.

In addition to other activities, some of the children practised their moves on surfboards beside the swimming pool.

Others prepared healthy fare including fruit and vegetable kebabs, fruit smoothies and rice salads.

One of the pupils, 10-year-old Malika, said her favourite activity was football, but she liked the other sports, too. "We do a lot of fun sporting activities and lots of working out, which is nice," she said.

Mhairi, a nine-year-old from Scotland, said: "We're learning to have a healthy life."

Teachers and staff joined in the event, with the assistance of the Socatots football programme, the Global Cricket Academy, the International Football Academy, Mini Monsters Gym, Dubai Hurricanes Rugby and Surf School UAE.

"A whole range of different people came in to help to make the day successful to the kids," Mr Webster said.

* With additional reporting by Hala Khalaf

This article originally stated that Khalid al Falasi was a moto cross champion. Instead he is a rally champion, as corrected.