DUBAI // Students at Zayed University have been using their free time to educate high-school pupils about the importance of living a healthier lifestyle.
Under the Creative Healthy Initiatives Project which visited three schools in the emirate, students came together to help change the way young people eat and exercise.
“We wanted to increase awareness about diabetes and obesity. It’s increasing over time and for this project we wanted to help decrease these chronic diseases,” said Shaima Badri, 20, a student of public health and nutrition.
Ms Badri and her team visited Al Khaleej school last month and spoke to about 50 Grade 11 and 12 students to challenge the most common excuses youngsters come up with to avoiding exercise and to explain how the rising trend of bariatric surgery was not an alternative to a healthy, active lifestyle.
“This is the future generation,” Ms Badri said. “We want to influence society, to change things. It’s also good for the CV when you do this kind of work as well.”
At Mirdif Private School, Ms Badri’s team told about 150 Grade 1 pupils how fun eating a balanced, healthy diet and physical exercise could be.
“We’re applying what we’ve learnt in a practical and fun way, working on social and presentation skills at the same time,” said Ayesha Khoory, 19, who is also studying public health and nutrition.
Ms Khoory visited Dubai National School to speak to pupils about the transition from high school to university, during which time many youngsters either gain or lose weight and struggle to deal with the new level of responsibilities and of time management university life brings.
“We gave them tips about how to eat healthily, how to improve their meals, and gave them a university timetable so they had to work out when they would make time to eat and exercise. It made them think about what to do if they don’t have much time to eat with short breaks or if they have a long one, how they could use it to go to the campus gym.”
Reem Al Hammadi, who is studying culture and society, challenged her fellow students to give up sugar for three days. Thirty took part, and while some could not go beyond day one, 20 completed the challenge. “These are the mothers of the future,” said the 21-year-old, from Sharjah. “It’s so important to educate these students.”
Zelda van Rooyen, who lectures nutrition and physical exercise, said the project was important as it helped enforce a positive message from peer to peer.
“It’s the only way to turn this circle around,” she said. “The young generation can influence their family, their friends, but we need this project to grow, we need at least 50 students doing this every year, not just these 16. The students have a misconception about what is healthy.”
Zujaja Al Noor, 21, who studies at the university’s Abu Dhabi campus, said: “Speaking Emirati to Emirati helps you get to their level. When it’s teachers, the students think it’s another lecture. Even with the media, there are so many campaigns going on but they lack the practical involvement which is what really leaves the impact.”