To tackle the issue of childhood obesity at the grass-roots level, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has collaborated with Danone Nutricia and Right Bite Express to launch a year-long initiative known as Healthy Plate Mates Project.

The authority’s Clinical Nutrition Department will reach out to nurseries across the emirate to educate both parents and teachers about inculcating healthy eating habits in their toddlers. 

His Excellency Humaid Al Qatami, Chairman of the Board and Director General of DHA, highlighted the need to continue working with various stakeholders to raise awareness about childhood obesity and ways to tackle the issue. 
In line with DHA’s Health Strategy 2016-2021, Al Qatami said the authority is committed to promoting children’s health and well-being as education at a young age can lead to healthy, active adults. 

Dr Ahmad Bin Kalban, CEO of Hospitals Services Sector at DHA, says, “This is an important age group that should not be ignored because toddlers are learning to enjoy the taste of various foods and if from this tender age they are exposed to healthy, unprocessed foods they will learn to have a taste for such foods in their school-going years. This will prevent them from developing childhood obesity, which is a global health concern.”

Hans van der Wulp, General Manager of Danone Nutricia Middle East DMCC, says, “Scientific evidence shows the nutrition a mother and child receive during the first 1,000 days — from conception until two years of age — can significantly influence health in adulthood and is a unique window of opportunity. Optimal nutrition during the first 1,000 days can reduce the occurrence of non-communicable diseases such as stunting, allergy, heart disease and diabetes in later life. 

“The aim of this campaign is to reach out to parents of toddlers to encourage them to continue the course of providing healthy meals as the toddler years can lay the foundation of healthy eating, which they can continue during their schoolgoing years and beyond.”

Dr Wafaa Ayesh, Director of Clinical Nutrition at DHA, says, “Parents and teachers should be aware that research shows children with obesity are likely to become obese adults and develop chronic lifestyle diseases early on. According to a recent DHA study, almost one third of schoolchildren are overweight or obese. Therefore, it is pivotal to encourage healthy eating habits and active lifestyle from an early age.

"We chose the age group of two to four years because this is the time when children are learning to build a relationship with food; this is also the time when growth spurts begin. These are the launch pad years before they go to school, so this is the time when parents can ensure snacks and lunch boxes are packed with nutrient-rich meals so that children readily accept and adopt a healthy eating pattern when they begin school.”

Dr Wafaa said that as part of the project, the authority will provide teacher training and distribute a 22-week healthy eating curriculum for them. Parents will also undergo training. The authority will distribute educational material and child-friendly healthy eating games such as flash cards so that toddlers can learn more in a fun and interactive manner.

In the first phase, 1,000 children from six nurseries are involved in the project. Right Bite Express will provide optional healthy meals that parents can buy for their children. A certain amount will be deducted. DHA’s Humanitarian Department will use the proceeds to help combat childhood malnourishment in countries of need.