Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; 13 December 2017 – The fight against childhood obesity has found strong and determined allies in both public and private sectors globally, and has spurred new approaches aimed at addressing the growing cases of obesity among children throughout the world.
Seeking to find new ways to solve childhood obesity, the first Abu Dhabi Childhood Obesity Forum, organised by the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi in partnership with MEED, has invited local and international experts and advocates who presented the very latest initiatives designed to reverse the threats posed by obesity on the future of the world's children.
Dr. Shatha Al Ghazali, Head of Cancer Prevention at the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi sees the school environment as playing a critical role in the successful campaign against childhood obesity. “We envision the UAE school environment to be one that promotes the health of the children, healthy food options, physical activity opportunities and mental wellbeing also,” she added.
Citing their research which shows strong evidence that school-based interventions are effective in reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity primarily because it is the place where children spend the most of their time in, Dr. Al Ghazali's team sought to develop an innovative classroom-based solution that improves children's physical activity level in schools.
“We are proposing to transform the classroom design in schools to include different kinds of physical activities that children like and will be engaged in. The proposed design will not only include the physical activity element but also the technology where every move counts. All moves will be collected and transferred to a points collection system (based on an algorithm). The solution introduces physical activity into the class/school environment while linking it to real-time measures. Children will get the opportunity to be physically active and collect points for being active, and each class will be competing for a higher star rate,” Al Ghazali continued.
The long-term vision is to equip all schools with this innovative, technology-driven solution that not only hopes to reduce the number of children suffering from overweight conditions and obesity, but also to increase the happiness level of school children, improve education engagement, as well as get the teacher and parents more involved.
Meanwhile, the International Food and Beverage Association (IFBA), which represents an often criticised F&B industry, presented some of the initiatives the organisation is undertaking to help decrease childhood obesity cases while balancing commercial corporate considerations. Christine Greaves, Middle East Representative, said, “Sugar taxes have been introduced in many countries worldwide, including the recent excise tax on fizzy drinks here in the UAE, with promising results. The food and beverage industry is also making efforts to align with childhood obesity programmes and educate communities on the importance of nutrition and balanced diets.”
According to Greaves, IFBA is focusing key initiatives in four key areas, including product reformulation and innovation, labelling transparency, responsible marketing and advertising to children and promoting healthy lifestyles.
Though the rate of childhood obesity has increased in recent years, Dr. Gowri Ramanathan, Chief Medical Officer, King's College Hospital London, UAE says there is no reason to panic.
Dr. Ramanathan says one of the reasons why childhood obesity has grown to such high levels is because of the problem parents have spotting childhood obesity. Referencing results of a global study, he says only about 11.5% of parents know their children are obese, while 88.5% either don't know or refuse to talk about it.
“In the UAE, the problem is compounded by a majority of parents who self-diagnose. Self-diagnosis bypasses primary care by professional healthcare providers and often lead to loss of valuable information. A simple, yet innovative solution is to introduce Family Medicine Consultants who will become key allies of parents in properly spotting obesity and other ailments in children and recommending the appropriate remedies to take,” Dr. Ramanathan added.
The Abu Dhabi Childhood Obesity Forum ended on a high note, providing over 300 private- and public-sector delegates as well as other stakeholders with the latest research and insights as well as recommendations on how to help fight childhood obesity in the UAE.