ABU DHABI // Health education is to be introduced as a subject in schools to encourage a healthy lifestyle among children, say education officials.
Dr Amer Al Kindi, a health manager for Abu Dhabi Education Council, said the programme would be available for pupils from kindergarten to Grade 12 in all public schools.
He said the programme’s details were still being finalised, but it should be in place by the 2016-17 academic year.
“It will be a separate curriculum that will be integrated into the system at all the grades. We will also encourage the teachers to be role models for the children. This is a huge project and we’ll be collaborating with the government and with various stakeholders,” said Dr Kindi, while speaking at the Arab Health summit in Dubai.
“In my experience awareness campaigns do not work. They are expensive, scattered, short term, unsustainable and their outcome cannot be measured completely. The public health community has to look for other measures. We are focusing on behavioural change as well as promoting a healthy school environment and healthy activities among students.”
He said it was part of a multi-agency approach to reducing obesity in schools, involving the media, the private sector and the government.
“There are many challenges we face while working on childhood obesity. We can’t regulate everything. We have limited school hours and adding a whole new curriculum is a huge task that we are undertaking.
“Also, most teachers have never taught health and so we need to develop their professional skills in this area.”
Adec is also working to regulate school canteens and ensure that healthy meals are provided to pupils.
Dr Anita Das Gupta, a clinical dietician at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, welcomed the plan.
“The earlier we teach children, the better it is for them,” she said. “The children will carry forward what they learn to the next generation.”
She said teachers should also make classes entertaining, energetic and interactive.
“Children love to play. Don’t make the class bookish, instead make it fun. Tell a child that if they like running, eating vegetables will help them be faster,” she said.
“We need classes like this in the UAE. Some of my patients eat only junk food and their parents don’t cook. If the children are taught they will carry the message home and tell their parents if they are eating unhealthily. Thus the message reaches the parents as well.”
Parents were also full of praise for the scheme.
Azza Mohammed, 35, an Emirati who has three children attending public schools in Abu Dhabi, said: “I welcome this move and I think it will be excellent.
“We as parents keep telling our children to be healthy but they don’t listen to us. If their teachers say it, it will have an effect.”
Khawla Al Alawi, an Emirati, has five children in public schools.
“The curriculum will be beneficial because children can be taught basic health education through it,” she said.