A generation of healthy children

The Ministry of Education’s plan to serve healthier food to schoolchildren should be only one ingredient in a recipe of measures needed to reduce the high rates of obesity and diabetes in the UAE.

The Ministry’s programme aims to impose healthy eating habits on the younger generation by replacing fast food and fizzy, sugar-filled drinks with fruits and juice. Providing nutritious food should be a priority for any school, but by taking control of their diet away from pupils, the schools will fail to prepare them for everyday life: they will have a huge range of food to choose from, not all of it healthy, every time they visit a mall or a hotel. They may also resent an imposed regime of vegetables or salads, and over-compensate by bingeing on takeaway food in their free time.

A more holistic approach is required, encompassing both diet and exercise. Young people should be taught the benefits of a balanced diet (a healthy lifestyle involves eating a little fat, and some sugar too), and how to choose from different food groups – a skill that, learnt at an early age, will be a benefit for the rest of their lives.

The other effective way for the Ministry to have a positive impact on children’s health is by promoting exercise. Schools should have a greater focus on physical education in the standard curriculum, and include more free, extra-curricular sports activities. Encouraging a love of sport in young people has many side benefits: they soon realise that to participate to the best of their ability they must eat healthily, and so they gravitate naturally towards a healthier diet without being bullied into it. In addition, as we report in The National today, studies have shown that the most effective way to reduce obesity in young people is to cut the amount of time they spend sitting in front of a television set or a computer game: and a child who loves to play football, netball or basketball would rather do so than laze around at home.

Healthy children grow up to be healthy adults, so the Ministry’s initiative to encourage good eating habits in young people has its heart in the right place: but to be fully effective, it must teach children to make the right choices about diet and exercise - both inside and outside the school environment.


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