The prevalence of obesity in children across the UAE has caused alarm amongst leading healthcare professionals. Determined to tackle the issue head on, leading UAE doctors have warned parents not to neglect the early warning signs that may result in a childhood obesity, or other serious health complications like diabetes.
Like much of the world, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are believed to be the primary causes of childhood obesity in the UAE. If left unaddressed by parents for prolonged periods, this lifestyle can have damning effects on the short and long-term health of children.
The Research into Obesity in UAE
According to Dr. Nashwa Bahaa El Din, a paediatric obesity specialist at Burjeel Hospital, poor diet and the unwillingness to engage in regular exercise is seriously compromising the long-term health of children.
It’s speculated that UAE’s scorching climate and the rise of the digital age compels many young people to disregard regular outdoor exercise in favour of more comfortable indoor temperatures and the persistent distractions of technological devices.
Dr. Nashwa Bahaa El Din said that, on average, she sees 20 obese patients each week, with the majority being female Emiratis. According to statistics released in 2016, almost 33% of UAE children between the ages of 5-17 are overweight and obese. *It is this alarming statistic that has led to Dubai planning to introduce new regulations to tackle the problem.
Far from being ignorant of the growing problem of childhood obesity, the UAE government has introduced several initiatives designed to promote healthy eating and active lifestyles. From installing interactive digital displays across hypermarkets to promoting healthy eating and emphasising physical activity in schools, initiatives have recently been introduced to educate children of the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle.
Health experts, such as Dr Anita Das Gupta, a clinical dietitian at Burjeel Hospital has observed a shift in parental attitudes towards obesity in recent years. Traditional views that the larger a child is, the stronger or cuter they are having been disregarded as parents are realising the dangers of an unhealthy diet, over-eating and distinct lack of exercise.
Dr Gupta sees the rise in parents seeking medical advice for their children’s weight as positive – and a clear indication of how increased awareness has prompted a shift in attitudes.
The Importance of a Balanced Diet and Portion Control
Much of children’s lifelong eating habits and dietary intake is decided when we’re young. It’s during these years when children begin to develop their palate, discover they have an affinity for certain flavours and food textures and discover what their taste buds disagree with.
It’s crucial for early years development and lifelong healthy eating habits that parents provide their children with a diet that includes every major food group and appropriate substitutes for foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar. Micronutrients, including protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables are encouraged.
Leading Dubai-based nutritionists agree that portion control is essential to avoid obesity, diabetes, and additional health afflictions. Children should be encouraged to only eat when they feel hungry, and eat what their bodies require – not over indulging on fatty or sugary foods.
Children’s portions should not be the same size as adults. Parents can make the mistake of evenly sharing food come meal times, when children of a lesser body weight do not need to consume the same amount of food as their parents.
At mealtimes, parents are advised to use small plates for their children. A smaller plate gives them the impression of a larger meal. This is especially beneficial to parents with children who have a large appetite as the psychological effect that they aren’t missing out come mealtime.
What’s clear is that parents in Dubai need to make a conscious effort to educate their children on what a healthy, balanced diet should include. However, what’s also clear is that with slight diet modification and the help from leading medical professionals is available, once any early signs of obesity have been detected.
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