A new school policy for Dubai will stipulate more physical exercise and less junk food for pupils as the authorities tackle schools that offer junk food in canteens.
The Dubai Health Authority on Sunday outlined a new plan for all private schools focused on disease prevention and early detection, accurate health data and encouraging students to lead a healthy lifestyle.
It will launch 12 programmes that are applicable for private schools in the emirate.
The move will mark a significant shift for schools that have allowed pupils to eat as they wish. It also follows long-standing complaints by the DHA and doctors that not enough health food is offered to pupils.
The UAE has the 16th highest rate of diabetes in the world, with 38 per cent of Type 2 diabetics likely to develop diabetic retinopathy, a sight-threatening eye condition.
Schools will have to show they are encouraging pupils to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, and increase PE classes to 150 minutes every week.
Other rules include compliance with the essential immunisation, promoting good dental and eye health and playing their part in an obesity early-detection programme.
Dr Manal Al Taryam, chief executive of Primary Healthcare Sector at the DHA, said the main target is children aged 7-15 years old.
She said the modern school should be a healthy environment "needed to protect children and bring out the best in them".
"We designed this policy after carefully considering all these factors," she said.
The DHA said pupils' health statistics would be logged in a database system to improve the way information about young people's health is collected.
Dr Nahed Monsef, director of health affairs department said "a wider five-year policy will be extremely comprehensive".
The new policy will improve children's overall wellbeing, Dr Nusaiba Al Behandy, Head of Health Unit at Dubai Health Authority (DHA) for Schools and Educational Institutes said.
“The 150 minutes of exercise includes curricular and extracurricular activities and aims to help students create a holistic healthy lifestyle with nutrition and excercise being important aspects to achieve overall wellbeing.
“The department will work with various stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education to develop a detailed plan on the implementation of the policy.”
Speaking to The National last year, Dr Shadi Hani Tabba, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist at Dubai Diabetes Centre, said some of his "young patients are eating fast food every day".
“Change needs to happen across society. School is a part of that, but there are many factors," he said.
The need to instil good eating habits in school is crucial given awareness in some parents is lacking.
A study of preschool children in Al Ain, as The National reported this month, found a poor diet in toddlers and little nutritional awareness among mothers and fathers.
Dr Dana Al Tarrah, assistant professor at the faculty of public health at Kuwait University, which led the research in collaboration with UAE University and University College London, found children had a high intake of protein and carbs - often found in fast food like burgers and breaded chicken - but low fibre intake.
“Most parents were unconcerned about the heaviness of a child, and one noticeable trend was that plumpness was viewed as a sign of prosperity," she said.