Dubai: Dubai Health Authority is launching a structured programme to reduce childhood obesity in schools beginning with the new academic year in September, a top official told Gulf News. This is line with the National Health Agenda goal of reducing childhood obesity by two per cent by 2021.
Childhood obesity has increased to 14 per cent among the young population and reduction is part of the new school health policy which will be implemented across all Dubai schools in September.
The obesity reduction programme will follow a multi-pronged approach that includes health education, involvement of all stakeholders in fruitful partnerships, creative initiatives and finally interventional steps to ensure that the benefits of the programme reach the individual obese child who needs help, said Dr Hamed Yahya Hussain, family and community medicine specialist working on this programme.
Dr Nussaibah Al Behandy, acting head of School Health Unit at the DHA, told Gulf News that the programs will be applicable to all private and government schools across Dubai. “A holistic school health environment is needed to protect children and bring out the best in them.”
Dr Hussain told Gulf News: “Among a variety of health issues that we are tackling in schools, childhood obesity gets top priority and we are working on three different levels to implement strict practices in place — social mobilisation, partnerships with many stakeholders, and interventional strategies which will tackle the problem at the individual level.”
This will include creating different levels of health awareness and education involving teachers, school management, parents, health clinics and children, educating them and making them aware of the various complications obesity can cause and methods of dealing with it.
This strategy will involve private and public stakeholders that play a role in school health of the child — for instance, the food labelling companies, food safety monitors, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) among others.
Dr Hussain said: “The KHDA, for instance, has already begun a Happy School Initiative, where they have created certain health criteria and schools are adjudged on these criteria, especially obesity.”
Similarly, the Dubai Sports Council will be introducing a 10/10 physical activity initiative that will encourage every child in each school to participate in a structured physical activity programme. This is targeted at benefiting obese children especially.
The National Canteen policy is part of this partnership where the quality and standard of food items allowed in school canteens are very clearly laid out. Fizzy drinks, high-fat and high-sugar foods are already banned and everything that is made available to the children through school canteens is monitored strictly.
The DHA has plans to involve a team of paediatricians, nutritionists and physical therapy specialists who will liaise with the health clinics at schools and follow up on the health of each and every child. “We plan to focus on overweight and obese children, identify their health issues that are resulting in obesity and refer them to a secondary and even tertiary health centre if required to address the problem,” said Dr Hussain.
“Between the DHA, Dubai Municipality, the KHDA and some more stakeholders, we have formed a Blue Team to develop several creative initiatives to motivate students and all other stakeholders in creating a healthy profile of each student. One of them is the healthy file initiative where schools will track the health of a student from the lowest class to the senior-most class, just like his or her academic report card. This will encourage school authorities, parents and the child to give priority to health issues and keep tabs on the health progress as well.”
All these programmes will go live with the implementation of the school health policy beginning this academic year. The DHA target is to maintain current levels of obesity and stem the explosive trend, and work on its steady reduction by next year.