Diabetic children learn about healthy lifestyles during stable visit

Organised by the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre Abu Dhabi, the Diabetes Fun Day for Kids allowed children, all with Type 1 diabetes, to get up close to the animals as doctors explained how specialist care and diet was essential.

ABU DHABI // A hundred diabetic children visited the Royal Stables in Abu Dhabi to hear why a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone – even horses.

Organised by the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre Abu Dhabi, the Diabetes Fun Day for Kids allowed children, all with Type 1 diabetes, to get up close to the animals as doctors explained how specialist care and diet was essential.

Horses, like people, can suffer from a lack of exercise, which leads to weight gain and health issues, said Dr Hawaa Al Mansouri, consultant endocrinologist at the diabetes centre.

“As horses are domesticated and don’t move that much, it’s important to maintain their diet and watch their physical activity so they don’t develop issues – just like in people,” Dr Al Mansouri said.

“We are explaining to children in a fun way, as children love ponies and horses.”

According to the International Diabetes Federation’s 2015 figures, in the UAE diabetes affects 19.3 per cent of the population, placing the nation 14th worldwide for countries with the highest diabetes prevalence per capita.

Dr Al Mansouri warned that diabetes was not just a physical threat but that it could also “affect a child psychologically”.

“They feel there is no one else like them, they feel different,” Dr Al Mansouri said. “They go to school and have to take insulin and think why do I have to do this when no one else does?”

The children visited Woody, a pony that developed laminitis (a painful foot condition) because he was overfed by visitors who ignored signage requesting he not be fed.

“We also had group discussions for children with diabetes,” Dr Al Mansouri said. “It gives them a chance to talk to each other and not feel they’re alone.”

Mahra, a five-year-old Emirati, has suffered from Type 1 diabetes for three years. She visited the stables with her mother, Esraa Mohammed. “I played and rode a horse today,” Mahra said. “I have seen one pony who has diabetes because he was eating too much. So I learnt to follow a good diet.”

Her mother was full of praise for the event. “Kids were educated about healthy food, lifestyles and what to put in their lunch boxes,” said Ms Mohammed. “It was a wonderful event.”

Emirati Nada Al Harbi took her four-year-old daughter Fatima to the stables. She said being around other children with the condition was helpful. “Always she questioned why I am not like my brothers and classmates in the school. Why I can’t eat whatever I want,” Ms Al Harbi said. “Today she is really happy.”

Anfal Al Junaibi was taught how to have a balanced and healthy diet and to control her sugar intake. “They demonstrated to us in a playful manner how to organise my plate and how to let my body work correctly and exercise,” said the 14-year-old.

“It was good to be here as I interacted with other children and had a pony ride, which was quite exciting,” she said.

anwar@thenational.ae