Parents have a role in fostering better diets, experts say

DUBAI // Reforms at public schools have led to healthier food choices in cafeterias and better health education, but experts say parents have to play a greater role by promoting these ideals at home. “There needs to be more parent involvement because students only spend about one-third of their time in schools,” said Dr Dalia […]

DUBAI // Reforms at public schools have led to healthier food choices in cafeterias and better health education, but experts say parents have to play a greater role by promoting these ideals at home.

“There needs to be more parent involvement because students only spend about one-third of their time in schools,” said Dr Dalia Haroun, an assistant professor of nutrition at Zayed University. If the students’ dietary habits were not changed at home, “there’s little the school can do”, she said.

In a study published last month in the Arab Journal of Nutrition and Exercise, Dr Haroun found that about a third of public school students in Dubai between 12 and 16 years old consumed soft drinks daily, while 60 per cent of the respondents watched two or more hours of television each day.

Of the 1,022 students that Zayed University researchers surveyed at 17 government schools in Dubai, 37 per cent of respondents said they exercised or played sports daily.

“This is a cause for concern for sure because childhood obesity is increasing in the UAE,” said Archana Baju, a clinical dietician at Burjeel Hospital.

Studies had shown about 40 per cent of young people in the country were overweight, she said. “The main thing is the sedentary lifestyle and healthy eating patterns.”

Although the data was collected in the 2012-2013 academic year, the findings were among the most recent public information available on the dietary and physical activity habits of UAE students in middle and high school.

Following the publication of the World Health Organisation’s global school-based student health survey, which showed that the number of overweight and obese students in the UAE had doubled between 2005 and 2010, the UAE has taken steps towards stopping or reversing the trend, according to Ola El Saleh, a co-author of the Zayed University study.

In 2011, the UAE banned the sale of junk food and fizzy drinks at public school cafeterias, as well as the purchase of energy drinks by children younger than 18. It also introduced health education and advocacy in classrooms.

Ms El Saleh said she and Dr Haroun were “hoping for better results” when the WHO released findings of its latest survey, which is conducted every five years. But their research suggested that more work was needed on improving students’ diets – especially at home.

Dr Deepti Chaturvedi, a paediatrics specialist, said parents should be better educated about nutrition and physical activity. “It’s more about knowing how to make the right choices and offering the right options to our children. Everything starts from home for kids. The best educators for kids are their parents.”

rpennington@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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