FNC hears healthy food will be only option at schools

The Minister of Health said the Cabinet was currently working on a law to unify food requirements for all education institutions in the country.

The Ministry of Health is working on food regulations with agencies such as Haad as part of a five-year nutrition plan to promote healthy living. Antonie Robertson / The National
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ABU DHABI // Healthy food will be the only option on the menu at all schools and universities across the country once a new law is passed, the Minister of Health told the Federal National Council last week.

During a debate about the rise in obesity and diabetes in the UAE, Dr Abdulrahman Al Owais said the Cabinet was working on a new law unifying food requirements for all education institutes in the country, both government and private.

The ministry has been working closely with a number of other entities, including the Ministry of Education, Dubai Health Authority and Health Authority — Abu Dhabi, to set the regulations.

The law will be a major addition to the ministry’s work in its five-year national nutrition strategy to promote healthy living.

Dr Sheikha Al Ari, FNC member from Umm Al Qaiwain and previously a head teacher, welcomed the move, but said schools needed to be monitored to ensure standards were met, particularly in the Northern Emirates.

“Saying that you will do something is one thing, but doing it is another,” she said. “I would like to see this translated to reality and implemented.”

She said stakeholders should be consulted when drawing up the law to ensure that food offered not only meets international nutrition standards but also appeals to pupils.

Dr Al Ari said she hoped that private schools will welcome the law and not look into the issue from a business perspective of making profit off students’ health.

“Diabetes is very high among pupils in schools, we would like to see it lowered.” she said.

Some schools have already introduced healthy meals in a bid to cut childhood obesity, a priority for the ministry, Dr Al Owais said.

In 2012, processed food, fried meals and food high in sugar or salt, including crisps and chocolate, were removed from school catering at Government schools. Private schools remain unregulated.

Regulations were listed in a 15-page guidebook issued by the Ministry of Education. The guidebook details how schools must choose caterers, the type of food they can sell and how it must be stored.

The new law will require schools to comply with healthy standards.

Dr Al Owais revealed the Cabinet’s plans for the first time at an FNC session last Tuesday’s after being questioned by Ali Al Nuaimi (Ajman).

Mr Al Nuaimi told the minister that increasing heart disease, diabetes and obesity was a “worry”.

Rashi chowdhary, a nutrition expert and diabetic educator in Dubai, welcomed the new law for healthy meals, but said the problem needs to be tackled in children’s homes first.

“It’s a great initiative since we now live in a country which is witnessing kids as young as 6 with adult onset Type 2 Diabetes,” she said.

“Laws like this will restrict their food habits at school but that’s not where the problem lies.

“Kids emulate their parents and their eating and lifestyle habits. It is important that the change in perception of food and fitness starts early on at home.

“Parents need to be informed and educated about the long term harmful effects of refined sugar, processed cereals, sugary fruit juices, sodas and fads like chemical induced low fat and sugar free.

“Only when parents make this mind shift then will laws like this be more effective.

“Eating better to live better needs to become a lifestyle rather than a law enforced. This is the only way it can benefit us long term.”