Health officials in Abu Dhabi announced at a forum that there is an exponential rise in the number of obese and overweight children in the country. The country is gearing up to tackle this problem to reduce the body mass index (BMI) of the children by at least 15 percent by the year 2020.
There is a reduction of physical activity among children and to address this, the government would work in collaboration with the private sector to raise the average physical activity among children. Shaikh Abdullah Al Hamed, chairman of the Department of Health-Abu Dhabi (DoH) explained that a rise of 15 percent in the physical activity is necessary to reach the goals. “The latest statistics show that 15 per cent of children in Abu Dhabi are obese, and that another 17 per cent is overweight. Without community engagement and institutional intervention, this rate is expected to rise. This is why the time to act is now,” he added as he spoke at the first edition of the Abu Dhabi Childhood Obesity Forum. This forum was a two-day meet of 300 government officials, company executives and health professionals. There were representatives from 12 government agencies and 9 private organizations. A further 20 students and four international experts interacted at the sessions.
The forum is slated to have several interactive sessions that might bring out the best possible strategies to reduce and manage obesity among the children. Some of the targets that could be addressed say experts include increasing the distance between schools and fast food joints in addition to increasing physical activity. There has to be a promotion and accessibility to healthy foods and reduction in the availability of unhealthy foods explained Dr. Omniyat Al Hajeri, director of public health at the DoH.
According to the statistics from the World Obesity Federation and the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, 15 percent and 17 percent of the children in Abu Dhabi are obese and overweight respectively. Less than 27 percent kids get at least an hour of physical activity daily and a quarter of the kids face problems such as pain and physical limitations when they participate in physical activities.
Dr Abdi Shakur Abdulle, associate director for public health at the New York University Abu Dhabi said that they had conducted a survey of around 1400 parents around three year back. They noted that 65 per cent of parents were unaware that their child was obese. The kids drank as many as 15 sodas a day; he added and had access to food delivery services that could provide them with junk and unhealthy foods he explained. By 7 to 9 years of age the kids were becoming obese he said. He added that over four percent of the children in Abu Dhabi (translating to around 40000 children) are morbidly obese.
King’s College Hospital London conducted an independent study last month and checked upon 500 parents. They noted that 87 per cent of the parents were unaware that unhealthy diet leads to 80 percent of the weight gain in the child. A further 85 percent of the parents would not accept the fact that the excess weight gained before achievement of puberty in the child could become lasting for life by the age of 10 or 11 years.
As a primary effort the Department of health has selected 20 children who would act as the focus group on whom the strategies could be tried. The most efficacious and easy to implement measures could be adopted said experts.
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