Childhood obesity in UAE is a growing problem

A study conducted by UAE University looked at the prevalence of obesity in schoolchildren in Ras Al Khaimah.

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ABU DHABI // A study of schoolchildren reveals the scale of childhood obesity, from toddlers to teenagers.

Increasing Obesity Rates in School Children in United Arab Emirates, published in online medical journals last month, addressed the prevalence of obesity and extreme obesity among children in Ras Al Khaimah.

It studied 15,532 children between the ages of 4 and 12 in 2013-2014 and 29,410 children aged between 3 and 18 in 2014-2015 and found 40 per cent to be overweight, a further 24.4 per cent to be obese and 5.7 per cent extremely – or morbidly – obese. While there were children from about 30 countries involved in the study, more than 90 per cent were UAE nationals.

The study’s authors, specialists at UAE University, noted that the “rising rate of extreme obesity is alarming – especially among boys”.

Of those in the 15 to 18-year-old age category, 10.3 per cent of boys were extremely obese compared with 3 per cent of girls in the same age category.

While the study focused on pupils at government schools in RAK, the study’s authors said the results indicated a worrying trend of obesity among the nation’s youth.

“The high prevalence of obesity in schoolchildren necessitates regular screening and monitoring for hypertension, dyslipidemia and diabetes, especially since these disorders are exceptionally common in the UAE,” the report said.

“Early intervention has been shown to produce measurable health benefits.

“Overcoming our cultural barriers to healthy lifestyles – for example, using parks, gym facilities, in-school sport ­activities and walking tracks in streets – are important.”

The study’s authors also stressed the need for parental and school support systems to help overweight children.

“Obesity in dependent children requires parental and school controls of their food choices and physical activities,” researchers said. “Obesity control in adolescents requires effective health ­education, good nutritional choices and regular exercise.”