UAE steps up efforts to ban unhealthy food in schools

The Cabinet announced last December that it would prevent canteens in all schools from selling junk food.

Junk foods and sweets on sale at Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistan School. Schools are now moving away from fatty foods. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // Efforts have been stepped up to eradicate unhealthy eating habits at schools which experts say can lead to widespread diseases including obesity, diabetes and heart problems.

Last December the Cabinet announced it would enforce healthy food standards by preventing canteens in all schools, private and public, from selling junk food.

It followed guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education in October 2012 discouraging the sale of processed food, including all types of chips, crisps and chocolates.

The guidelines also stipulated that these items should be replaced with healthier foods, such as fruit and vegetables.

A similar initiative has already been implemented in Dubai.

Unicef has also recently launched the School Health Education Project in Abu Dhabi – a year-long scheme to improve the eating habits of 12 to 15-year-olds that aims to teach school nurses how to convince youngsters about the benefits of healthy food and leading an active lifestyle.

Dr Fawad Khan, a consultant in family medicine at Al Noor Hospital’s Airport Road branch, said such initiatives were important in lowering obesity rates among schoolchildren.

“Obesity leads to a host of other issues such as diabetes, sleep apnoea, fatty liver disease,” he said.

“The psychological effect of obesity is also very important through bullying, the child cannot take part in sports. This can have an effect and lead to anxiety and depression.”

School canteens should steer clear of fried food and promote fruit, vegetables, calcium-rich foods and small portions of protein, he said.

Dr Anita Gupta, a clinical dietician at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, agrees.

“Education about healthy eating should start at an early age,” she said.

Wholemeal or grilled food rather than starchy or fried foods are the best alternative for healthier menu options at schools, she said.

“Obesity can lead to so many other problems such as cardiovascular issues, pulmonary problems and even cancer.”