Abu Dhabi: A campaign for a healthy diet at schools, which met with some initial resistance from parents and children, has now changed their attitude towards junk food, a senior official told Gulf News.
"When the campaign titled ‘Eat Right, Get Active' was launched, some children [and their parents too] asked why they were denied their favourite foods at school canteens. But now the same people have started appreciating the campaign, saying that they have learnt the ill-effects of some of the popular [junk] foods," Mohammad Jalal Al Reyaysa, Director of Communication and Community Service Department at Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), said in an interview recently.
The campaign was jointly launched last year by ADFCA, Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) and Abu Dhabi Educational Council (Adec).
The campaign created awareness not only among the children but a cross- section of the community at large as the children took the message of a ‘healthy diet' to their families, Al Reyaysa said.
It aims at increasing awareness of food groups and calories, as well as fostering behavioural change towards a healthy diet and the need for students to be physically active.
ADFCA currently has in place guidelines for school canteens to ensure that they serve healthy and appropriate meals to students. It insists that food items sold in school canteens carry calorie labels. Certain food products, which the ADFCA labels as "junk food", are also banned from being sold in school canteens.
Parents said the campaign helps the future generations. "My daughter studying at KG 2 at Abu Dhabi Indian School is very fond of vegetables and fruits after attending an awareness session on the ill-effects of junk food," said Dr S.D. Gopakumar, Chief Operating Officer of a private company in Abu Dhabi.
The campaign gains relevance as one in three children in Abu Dhabi is either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, a growing problem which the authorities decided to tackle a year ago.
According to the International Obesity Task Force, one in ten school-age children worldwide is overweight — a total of 155 million — and up to 70 per cent of overweight adolescents become overweight or obese adults.
In efforts to raise awareness and change lifestyle habits among school students, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) has been aggressively promoting the "Eat Right and Get Active" campaign in the past year.
It targeted school nurses, school teachers, parents and students in 486 private and public schools across the emirate. Comprehensive health screening among schoolchildren has also become mandatory, covering areas such as generalhealth, hearing, oral health, anaemia, spinal curvature, development and management of health education.
The initiative will help the health authority monitor lifestyle and eating habits among school students. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) reports, 25.6 per cent of males and 39.9 per cent of females in the UAE over 15 years of age are obese.
Permitted food items
- Bottled water
- Whole wheat bread (white or brown)
- Boiled or grilled potatoes
- All kinds of beans or dried beans
- Soya milk, dairy, yoghurt and cheese.
- Muffins, biscuits (plain or stuffed with dates)
- Processed meat (sausages, mortadella, nuggets, burgers, shawarma)
- French fries and chips
- Ice cream
- Chocolate bars and ice cream
- Chewing gum with sugar
- Any type of sweetening containing colouring
- Soft drinks, energy drinks, flavoured water, sports drinks and slush drinks
Food allowed if certain conditions are met
- Cereals (canned or packed)
- Stuffed fruit pie (on condition that it's not more than 52 grams)
- Thin layer of garlic bread with olive oil (on condition that it should weigh more than 28 grams per layer)
- Rice, noodles, pasta
- Pastries and manakish (not more than 52 grams)
- Salad (dressing should be put aside, and should only be lemon, vinegar and olive oil)
- Milk and meat, chicken or fish should be grilled or boiled
- Butter-free popcorn
- Fruit juice and nectar, provided the percentage of calory is controlled or according to healthy limits
Source: Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority regulations