DUBAI // Diners will soon be able to make healthier choices when they go out for a meal – plans are in the pipeline to add the calorie content of menu items to help curb the country’s obesity epidemic.
Authorities are working to incorporate a food-labelling rule for restaurants, so all establishments will have to declare the calories in every dish they serve.
Putting information in front of consumers will help them to make healthier choices, according to Dr Waffa Ayesh, director of clinical nutrition at Dubai Health Authority.
“The move will help promote the concept of mindful eating and will deter people from frequently opting for high calorie meals,” she said.
“Globally obesity rates are growing while dependence on outside eating has increased from an occasional weekend meal to eating out on a more frequent basis.
“Requiring restaurants to give consumers nutritional and calorie information in a direct and accessible manner will help them make informed and, hopefully, healthy dietary choices.”
According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, more than 66 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women in the UAE are overweight or obese.
The DHA and Dubai Municipality are working to implement the new rule, which will be rolled out in phases to help restaurants cope and make the necessary changes.
“More information is better than less or no information,” Dr Ayesh said.
“People can clearly benefit by knowing more and they should know more about nutrition and calories. Healthy nutrition is one of the pillars of well-being and good health.
“We will do everything in our power to improve the way community members in Dubai eat, yet finally it does boil down to individual choices. Many cities abroad have successfully incorporated this rule.”
One of those is Oklahoma City in America, whose mayor, Mick Cornett, encouraged residents to join his diet regime and make healthier meal-time choices.
Mr Cornett asked people to sign up to a website to join his fat-loss scheme and monitor their own weight. More than 47,000 committed to the programme, losing a combined million pounds (453,592 kilograms) in weight over four years.
The initiative prompted design changes to the way the city worked, to encourage fewer people to drive and more to live a healthier lifestyle.
Mr Cornett, speaking at the Dubai Health Forum, suggested how Dubai could follow his city’s lead in reducing obesity.
“Like Dubai, Oklahoma [City] is a 20th-century city so it has been designed around the car, not pedestrians,” he said.
“Obesity had also become a taboo subject, because people did not want to talk negatively about one another.”
The mayor asked residents to vote on rebuilding the city to make it more accessible for pedestrians and for exercise. The downtown area was redesigned to be more pedestrian friendly by narrowing the streets and adding jogging paths,
There were more green spaces and wellness centres. By changing the urban environment, people were more encouraged to get out of their homes and cars and walk.
“I don’t like the idea of taxing fat or sugar, but giving people more information about what they are eating is a good idea so they can make informed choices about their own lifestyles,” Mr Cornett said.
“Governments should create environments that encourage people to succeed.”