The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has begun a brand-new policy dedicated to promoting safer, healthier environments for school pupils throughout the capital. The plans, confirmed by Dr Manal Al Taryam, CEO of the DHA’s Primary Healthcare Sector, are closely aligned with the Dubai Health Strategy 2016-2021 and the UAE National Health Agenda Vision 2021. The latter is targeting a reduction of childhood obesity from 14.4% to 12% during the next three years.
The policy follows long-standing complaints by the DHA and doctors across Dubai regarding the lack of healthy food on offer for pupils. The implementation of less junk food in school canteens should go together with the significant increase in the number of vegetarian restaurants throughout UAE, making fresh, healthy food more accessible to families every day. For example, Deliveroo.ae now works with vegetarian takeaways who are passionate about delivering flavoursome and delicious dishes throughout Dubai, without any kind of health compromise.
The UAE has the 16th highest rate of diabetes worldwide, with more than a third (38%) of all Type 2 diabetics expected to develop diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition which can lead to permanent loss of sight. The new policy will see the launch of 12 programmes relevant to private schools across the emirate, targeting disease prevention, early detection of conditions and teaching students the benefits of leading a healthier lifestyle.
Schools will be asked to help pupils reach the daily target of five portions of fresh vegetables and fruit, as well as increase the length and breadth of their physical education lessons to 150 minutes per pupil each week. The DHA is targeting a closer alignment with schools by developing a database and an integrated health information system through HASANA, documenting pupils’ data, schools’ health services accreditations and unifying school infrastructure.
Dr Al Taryam said at the launch of the new policy insisted a “holistic school health environment” was essential to “protect” the long-term health and interests of the next generation and “bring out the best in them”. He added that the policy had been designed in collaboration “with various governmental authorities” to create a “truly comprehensive school health policy”.
Last year, Dr Shadi Hani Tabba, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist at Dubai Diabetes Centre claimed a considerable number of his younger patients had resorted to consuming fast food “every day”. Re-educating the benefits of fresh, healthy food is a huge task, but something that must happen “across society” according to Dr Shadi Hani Tabba.
Diet issues have been found in some pre-school children as young as three and four, with a study of toddlers in Al Ain suggesting minimal nutritional awareness or commitment from pupils’ parents. Worryingly, many of the parents of the children involved in the study were unconcerned by the weight of their kids, with some even considering a slightly overweight child to be a sign of their family’s prosperity. For the new school health policy to prove successful for all Emirati children, it will require significant buy-in from parents as well as school staff to demonstrate the importance of leading a healthier, more active lifestyle.