Parents in UAE admit to caving into child's fast food demands



ABU DHABI // More than half of parents who give their children unhealthy food regularly do so despite knowing the adverse effects and because of their offsprings' insistence.

A survey of 999 UAE parents found that 40 per cent often let their children consume calorie-laden foods such as chips, burgers, pizza and chocolate.

The survey, compiled for Al Aan TV's Nabd Al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) programme and The National by YouGov, found that 59 per cent said this was because they cave in to their children who "insist" on eating unhealthy foods.

A further 32 per cent said they gave their children unhealthy foods because they were "picky eaters".

Other respondents said they had no time to prepare healthy meals at home and said unhealthier foods were more convenient, while some said fast food and ready-to-eat prepackaged dinners were cheaper than preparing a meal from scratch.

Of those who admitted to giving their children unhealthy food, one in 10 admitted they did so "whenever they ask for it".

More than 50 per cent of respondents said they fed their children unhealthy food "once to twice a week".

But experts are clear that a healthy lifestyle when a child is young is key to the prevention of weight problems and obesity later, and avoiding illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

"Food parents choose for kids these days has become a matter of convenience rather than health," said Rashi Chowdhary, a Dubai-based nutritionist. "It is easier for parents to order in a pizza over a nutrient rich, home-cooked meal.

"Parents are a child's biggest role model, but since adults here are completely misinformed about food, they take no time out for any activity and eat unhealthy meals next to their kids, so having unhealthy, overweight or even obese children is bound to happen.

"Kids as young as eight have Type 2 diabetes in the UAE today."

The answer, she said, was to "encourage your children to eat food in its most natural original form. So choose whole fruit over fruit juices, pick whole grain breads over refined white breads, whole milk over skimmed". She added: "Start at a young age with kids, and they will grow up to be healthier adults."

The study found Dubai parents were more than twice as likely to give their children unhealthy food as parents in Abu Dhabi or Sharjah. Of those asked, 42 per cent admitted buying fast food on a "regular basis" for their children.

Hamda Al Hameli said she regularly gave her three children fast food because of its convenience.

"I am a working woman and do not have enough time to cook when I return home," said the 28-year-old Abu Dhabi resident. "I admit it, most of the time I pick food up."

Mrs Al Hameli buys takeaways such as baguettes, burgers or hot-dogs for her children three or four times a week.

But Rahma Al Ketbi, a nutrition education manager at the Abu Dhabi-based Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, said parents needed to be role models for healthy eating.

The risk of adult obesity is at least twice as high for obese children than for non-obese children, she said.

"Adolescents are being diagnosed at younger and younger ages due to obesity linked to physical inactivity and unhealthy diets," she said.

"Children are often more willing and open to learn about healthy choices than adults realise," she said. "Just don't force them to choose between cookies and carrots. But, if the option is between fruit and whole-grain crackers with cheese, either choice is a winner."

jbell@thenational.ae

For more information about this survey, watch Al Aan TV's Nabd Al Arab (Arabs' Pulse) programme at 8pm on April 6.

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Ruwais timeline

1971 Abu Dhabi National Oil Company established

1980 Ruwais Housing Complex built, located 10 kilometres away from industrial plants

1982 120,000 bpd capacity Ruwais refinery complex officially inaugurated by the founder of the UAE Sheikh Zayed

1984 Second phase of Ruwais Housing Complex built. Today the 7,000-unit complex houses some 24,000 people.  

1985 The refinery is expanded with the commissioning of a 27,000 b/d hydro cracker complex

2009 Plans announced to build $1.2 billion fertilizer plant in Ruwais, producing urea

2010 Adnoc awards $10bn contracts for expansion of Ruwais refinery, to double capacity from 415,000 bpd

2014 Ruwais 261-outlet shopping mall opens

2014 Production starts at newly expanded Ruwais refinery, providing jet fuel and diesel and allowing the UAE to be self-sufficient for petrol supplies

2014 Etihad Rail begins transportation of sulphur from Shah and Habshan to Ruwais for export

2017 Aldar Academies to operate Adnoc’s schools including in Ruwais from September. Eight schools operate in total within the housing complex.

2018 Adnoc announces plans to invest $3.1 billion on upgrading its Ruwais refinery 

2018 NMC Healthcare selected to manage operations of Ruwais Hospital

2018 Adnoc announces new downstream strategy at event in Abu Dhabi on May 13

Source: The National

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