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One in three schoolchildren overweight or obese

Health Authority Abu Dhabi extends reach of campaign to promote healthier living

Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A comprehensive screening of schoolchildren in the emirate of Abu Dhabi found that nearly 30 per cent are either overweight or obese, health officials announced in the capital on Sunday.

The screenings, which were conducted by school nurses in the 2011-2012 academic year and analysed by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad), also found that 27 per cent of schoolchildren suffer from anaemia and that 10 per cent are underweight.

“Living an unhealthy lifestyle not only increases children’s predisposition to develop anaemia, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses but the lack of healthy nutrition also makes them lazy and tired, thus negatively affecting their academic performance,” said Dr Arwa Al Modwahi, senior officer in the community health and surveillance department at Haad.

To eliminate negative food habits and promote an active lifestyle among children, the Haad has extended the reach of its ‘Eat Right Get Active’ campaign this year.

“Last year, 25 public schools participated in the pilot phase of the campaign and we found that children developed an awareness of eating more fruits and vegetables and began to undertake more physical activity. This year, 50 private schools have also enrolled to promote healthier living among their pupils,” Dr Arwa said.

Healthy eating at home

“Our challenge now is to ensure that children continue eating healthy even when they are at home. Unfortunately, many of them resort to junk food when they are not in school,” she told Gulf News.

Results from last year’s campaign revealed a 60 per cent increase in the intake of fruits during the week among schoolchildren in participating public schools.

The Haad is, therefore, working to train representatives from private schools about healthy living habits. In collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Education Council, representatives from public schools will also be trained in 2013.

“We hope the schools will then reach out to parents and pass on the message to them,” Dr Arwa said.

A host of online resources to encourage healthier living are also available for representatives of all schools in the emirate.

“These include food frequency charts, body mass index calculators and questionnaires to measure children’s dietary intake and physical activity. When schools use these resources, the data can be sent over to the Haad for further analysis,” the official added.