‘Cultural shift’ required to tackle childhood obesity, health experts say

Incentives to encourage children to eat healthily as well as greater education for parents and schools were among the measures suggested during a discussion at the Arab Paediatric Medical Congress, in Dubai.
More work needs to be done to prevent childhood obesity in the region, a health conference was told on Friday. Pawan Singh / The National
More work needs to be done to prevent childhood obesity in the region, a health conference was told on Friday. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // More needs to be done to tackle the causes of childhood obesity in the UAE and the wider Middle East region, a health conference was told on Friday.

Incentives to encourage children to eat healthily as well as greater education for parents and schools were among the measures suggested during a discussion at the Arab Paediatric Medical Congress, in Dubai.

“We need a cultural shift in the perception children have of fast food,” said Dr Farida Al Hossani, manager at the Communicable Diseases Department at Health Authority Abu Dhabi.

“Children are very IT savvy and we need to use things like social media as well as the media in general to help us educate children and their parents on the benefits of eating healthily and the dangers of obesity.”

Other speakers called for the Government to lower the price of organic foods and fruits and vegetables to make them more competitive with fast food.

“Education is the key and it needs to be a consistent and ongoing campaign,” said Sally Chapman, school health nurse at Horizon English School, in Dubai.

“I think the Government here can play a bigger role by reducing the price of healthy food, which will make people much more inclined to buy it.

“At our school we’ve had children come in with small cakes, crisps and soft drinks in their lunch boxes.

“But that might be because the parents haven’t been educated into what is and isn’t healthy. So what we are doing is sending out letters giving advice on the healthier alternatives.”

Dr Tawfik Khoja, director general of the Executive Board of the Health Ministers’ Council for GCC states, said using incentives to encourage children to lose weight should be something countries in the region should look at.

“In the UK they have introduced a system whereby overweight children can get financial incentives for losing weight and eating healthier,” he said.

“They have worked out that for every £1 that is spent on the initiative, it will save up to £100 in later life by lowering the need for weight-related medical treatment.”

The three-day Arab Paediatric Congress is being held at the Amwaj Rotana Hotel at Jumeirah Beach Residences and concludes on Saturday.

nhanif@thenational.ae

Published: May 30, 2014 04:00 AM

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