Abu Dhabi: Despite the implementation of a number of school-based health programmes, educational institutions in the emirate of Abu Dhabi still lack a comprehensive health strategy that addresses all current challenges, a senior educational official has said.

As a result, about 60 per cent of teenage boys in Abu Dhabi schools are bullied one or more times during the year, compared with 50 per cent in the USA and 21 per cent in China. Forty per cent of teenagers are also overweight, compared with just 15 per cent in the United States.

Many other public health issues also continue to persist, including a high prevalence of smoking, and lack of physical activity. The emirate’s education sector regulator, the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), therefore called on organisations to develop dedicated school health programmes that would tackle and resolve these public health problems.

“We know that interventions implemented at school are not only effective in changing pupil behaviour, but they also help improve pupils’ overall educational achievement level and behaviour,” said Dr Amer Al Kindi, health and wellness division manager at the Adec.

A host of health promotion initiatives already exist, such as the Health Authority Abu Dhabi’s annual Eat Right Get Active programme, which encourages a balanced diet and regular exercise. Since 2012, the Adec has also pushed schools to develop their own plans for fostering healthier lifestyles among pupils. However, most of these target specific areas of concern.

“We are therefore looking for long-term strategies that will work to reduce a whole range of health issues, including school-based aggression and substance issue,” Dr Al Kindi told Gulf News.

The programmes are expected to be voluntarily developed by organisations and individuals, and the Adec will review them before implementation. While the size and range of each initiative can vary, most campaigns will focus on public schoolchildren in the initial phases.

The Adec will not necessarily oversee the implementation of the programmes at schools, but Dr Al Kindi said that educators are aware of the intrinsic benefits.

“Pupils are better behaved, and there is less absenteeism. And, of course, the healthier children are, the better they perform at school,” he added.

To stress the need for healthier children, Adec officials also met nearly 500 school leaders earlier to discuss health policies, immunisation programmes, first aid techniques and plans to assist children with chronic conditions.