Abu Dhabi has set out a strategy to improve eating habits and cut obesity rates in the capital by promoting healthier meal options.
Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre has rolled out the SEHHI programme, which will single out foods that are low in fat, sugar and salt, and high in fibre, and display the number of calories in dishes.
Healthy food items will have a SEHHI logo placed next to them on menus, state news agency Wam reported.
Supermarkets and grocery stores will also be encouraged to promote and display nutritious foods on sale under the initiative.
It was not made clear how many outlets will participate in the campaign and when it will be implemented.
The move is in line with a long-term vision to boost lifestyle habits, helping people to live longer and healthier lives while easing pressure on health services.
"ADPHC is committed to the safety and wellbeing of every member of the Abu Dhabi community and nutrition undoubtedly plays a critical role in promoting overall health and has a profound impact on reducing the prevalence and burden of lifestyle diseases," said Matar Al Nuaimi, director general of Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.
"As such, the launch of the SEHHI programme aligns with our vision towards a healthy, safe society by consolidating the efforts of various stakeholders in the ecosystem to ensure access to healthy foods and promote more informed and educated dietary choices."
A recent study shed more light on the problem of obesity in the Gulf region, with young people said to be storing up problems for the future by putting on weight.
About one third of university students in the UAE are overweight or obese, the research said, and scientists have issued a warning that rate is likely to increase as this generation grows older.
Dr Omniyat Al Hajeri, executive director of community health for ADPHC, said the scheme highlights the importance of adopting a balanced diet.
"The SEHHI programme will support and empower the community to make well informed decisions when it comes to the consumption of food,' said Dr Al Hajeri.
"Through the SEHHI programme, ADPHC has made sure to reach all consumer touchpoints to encourage better dietary decisions. We strongly urge the community to follow healthy eating habits and ensure they are consuming a balanced diet."
How the health drive will work
A comprehensive classification process has been established to identify foods that fall under the SEHHI programme, with the criteria considering calorie count, total fats, saturated and trans fats, sugar, salt, and fibre amounts.
Food outlets will also be able to input details about their food items into a digitised platform that will review and analyse the nutritional value of their dishes, identifying those that meet the SEHHI criteria.
Participating establishments will receive guidance and training on the programme, while members of the public will be given information on how to improve their diet.
"With the prevalence of obesity and sedentary lifestyles globally and locally, encouraging balanced and nutritious dietary choices is essential to and overall health of society, and aligns with ADPHC’s vision of a healthy safe society by promoting preventive and public health," said the centre, in a statement carried by Wam.
UAE committed to boosting health
The UAE is already taking steps to improve the health and well-being of its population.
In March, the UAE Taskforce on Obesity held its first meeting.
It focuses on educating children aged from 5 to 17 on the dangers of being obese, focusing on healthy eating, weight management, exercise and nutrition.
"Combating obesity is a public health priority, while treating it requires raising awareness about obesity and its complications," said Dr Hussain Al Rand, assistant under secretary for the public health sector at the Ministry of Health, at the time.
The UAE's national health agenda also emphasises the importance of preventive medicine and promoting healthier lifestyles — such as better diets and cutting smoking levels — to reduce cancer rates and the prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
In June, the UAE Cabinet established a national task force to address public health challenges facing the country.
The National Public Health Committee, led by Abdulrahman Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention, will ensure authorities are prepared to respond to pressing health issues and help raise awareness of potential risks and factors impacting public well-being.