Childhood Obesity in UAE :
A 2016 study conducted by UAE University found an alarming prevalence of Childhood obesity in schoolchildren across Ras Al Khaimah. Published in online medical journals online, the findings highlighted the need for parents and schools to take a more proactive approach towards children’s diets and lifestyles.
According to Dr. Hiba Aboultaif, a clinical dietitian at Harley Street Medical Centre, healthy eating and consistent leisure activities could limit weight gain in children.
The UAE University Study
The study of childhood obesity at Ras Al Khaimah was conducted over a two-year period between 2014-2015 and monitored the health of almost 30,000 school children between ages of 3-18.
Medical professionals found that of the 30,000 school children, 40% were classified as overweight. 24.4% were classified as obese and 5.7% of children were classified as morbidly obese. It was noted that, despite the study including children of more than 30 different countries, 90% were UAE nationals. *
What Causes Obesity in Children
Dr. Hiba Aboultaif noted that he sees a minimum of 10 overweight patients per month and that there are many reasons that lead to having an overweight or obese child. Such reasons include inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle.
Additionally, playing video games instead of running and exercising is blamed for excessive weight gain in children as is easy access to unhealthy food establishments, and the general lack of eating habits conducive to a healthy BMI.
Dr. Hiba Aboultaif also highlighted the correlation between sedentary leisure activities, media influences, a lack of portion control, the absence of parental care and attention, and genetics as just some of the primary causes of why children are increasingly becoming obese.
Educating Parents and Children
Dir. Mohammed Zaki, director of nutrition at Lotus Medical Centre in Al Quays, said that there has been a ‘horrible rise’ in childhood obesity over the last few years. His patients range from between 3-18 years old, with children under the age of 13 at a greater risk of developing obesity.
The most effective way to tackle the rising number of childhood obesity patients is to educate children and patients on the dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle. This includes warning patients of the long-term health implications of obesity, which include diabetes, high cholesterol and heart complications, whilst taking the necessary actions to ensure that unhealthy childhood habits do not continue into adolescence and adulthood.
Dr. Zaki notes that ‘we can handle the health and well-being of the child by talking with the patient and their family to make them aware of the dangers of obesity in the future and how to avoid it. The next step is to psychologically prepare the child to follow a diet plan to ensure good health.’
He goes on to states that, ‘when the family works alongside a nutritionist, it makes reaching the child’s target weight much easier, allowing us to choose a diet plan that suits the patient.’
What’s clear is that despite the rise of obesity in children in UAE, there is a concerted effort being made by leading medical professionals to, not only address the issue but, educate children and parents of the potential dangers posed to children’s health. The hope is that this commitment will yield a long-term reduction in the amount of children, adolescents and adults diagnosed with diabetes, high cholesterol, and associated health maladies.
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