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Abu Dhabi: A member of the Federal National Council on Tuesday demanded that more efforts be made by the Ministry of Education to tackle the obesity crisis among schoolchildren.

Saeed Saleh Al Rumaithi, a member of the House from Abu Dhabi, said a comprehensive school strategy is needed to address health, fitness and obesity crisis among schoolchildren.

The member demanded more education and healthy eating initiatives be launched by the Ministry of Education to help schools across the country stop the children gorging on junk food, as well as reducing their sugar intake and raising awareness of the importance of eating well.

“Canteens in schools across the emirates must offer healthy meals as well as delivering educational programmes to teachers, parents and pupils on the benefits of eating properly during the school day,” Al Rumaithi said.

The member said the ministry should exert more effort to inculcate healthy eating habits and physical exercise among students, as well as their commitment to inclusive education.

Al Rumaithi demanded that children be empowered to rethink and actively understand their own food choices, understand where their food comes from and the importance of eating a balanced meal.

The member said the more psychological support be given to obese schoolchildren.

Jameela Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Public Education, told the House the average obesity prevalence among schoolchildren was 13.6 per cent last year, down from 14.4 per cent the previous year.

“The prevalence of obesity among schoolchildren is steadily decreasing thanks to efforts made by the Education Ministry in cooperation with stakeholders including the Ministry of Health,” Jameela said.

Obesity among children is a cause of concern in the UAE. Statistics published by the Department of Health — Abu Dhabi in 2014 showed 14 per cent of pupils across the emirate’s schools were overweight, while 15 per cent of them suffered from obesity.

The National Programme for Government Communication launched the 2021 Healthy Children initiative to fight obesity among children. The UAE National Agenda aims to reduce the prevalence of obesity among children from 13.17 per cent (as of 2014) to 12 per cent by the year 2021.

Jameela said the ministry is working on making all schools across the emirates and their food suppliers follow the healthy nutritional guidelines issued by the authorities concerned, to ensure providing healthy foods for schoolchildren.

“This includes requirements to ensure food safety and hygiene in school canteens. It includes hygiene requirements for the production of safe food which should be provided in school canteens and schools’ food supplying facilities as well as providing necessary instructions to ensure the safety of food during handling, cooking, transporting, displaying and selling,” the minister said.

Jameela added the ministry is working to ensure healthy food in schools, including basic facts related to healthy food and nutritional needs required by different age groups in schools.

The ministry also developed nutritional guidelines for schools, which contains examples of a variety of school meals.

“The Ministry of Education, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Prevention, launched several initiatives to reduce the prevalence of obesity among schoolchildren. Our priority is school canteens and kitchens and the importance to provide fruits, vegetables and dairy products. We also educate schoolchildren to eat breakfast and hold activities in and outside schools all year round,” Jameela said.

The minister pledged to focus on sports academies such as those in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

She said the ministry promotes educational concepts that have a significant impact “on our community and highlight our common values and the societal and institutional efforts to eliminate bullying in schools across the country”.