Dr Liza M Thomas of the Canadian Specialist Hospital with schoolchildren from across Dubai, during an antiobesity presentation. Image Credit: Oliver Clarke/Gulf News

Dubai: Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the UAE with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and a host of obesity-related medical conditions.

With nearly a third of children either obese or overweight, government and local hospitals are shoring up efforts to tackle the obesity rate.

The latest anti-obesity campaign titled ‘Act Now’ was launched Monday by the Canadian Specialist Hospital (CSH).

Aimed at kids, the ongoing campaign discusses prevention, causes, health risks and solutions.

Health authorities, medical professionals, and parents are concerned.

This week, the UAE was listed seventh on the Global Fat Scale among 177 countries, calculated using UN data on population size and estimates of global weight from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Last year’s figures from a nationwide survey of Emirati and expatriate schoolchildren by the Ministry of Health (MoH) stated that 15.5 per cent are obese, 39.2 per cent are overweight and a worrying 21 per cent had fast food three times or more a day.

“The rate hasn’t lowered. There are more than 30 per cent of UAE kids are who obese,” said Dr Liza Thomas, Specialist Internal Medicine, CSH, speaking to Gulf News.

“The statistics are alarming,” said Dr Ali Reza Eghtedari, Consultant Surgeon and Head of Laparoscopic and Obesity Speciality Clinic at CHS.

He told Gulf News that obese children, some as young as eight years old, are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

“The harmful effects of obesity among children are evident early on. These can range from diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol.

“I know of young obese patients who have both diabetes and hypertension — fatal for the kidney. If obesity rates aren’t checked, these children will grown up to be unhealthy adults with several medical complications,” he said.

The leading cause of obesity is the availability of junk food and lack of parental involvement in making health a priority, said Dr Thomas.

She explained that parents find it more convenient to visit a fast food outlet then to prepare a healthy meal at home.

She highlighted the role of parents in preventing obesity. She said parents should be role models first. “When children watch their parents eat healthy, they will also emulate them. The learning starts at home and progresses at school and community levels.”

Gulf News also spoke to parents and children to learn of their attitudes towards their health.

Jenny Akiki, mother of Adriana, 10, and two-month-old Eva said being a good role model is the only way to convince your kid to adopt the same lifestyle.

“If my kids see me eating burgers and fries, they will surely not want the broccoli and carrots I give them.”

Akiki prepares Adriana’s meals, including her school lunch box. “I am not convinced of how healthy the school canteen food is so I prefer to cook her meals. Junk food is allowed only on rare occasions.”

Parul Soparkar, grandfather of Aanya, four, said that health is a top priority at the household, and that corrective eating behaviours have to start young. “Aanya is a fussy eater, but has to learn to eat all the food that is good for her.”

Jack Simpson, 12, and Megan Valk, 14, are both students at Dubai English Speaking School (DESS). While they lead active lives, a few of their peers need to change their current lifestyle.

Simpson said, “I have a friend who eats two to three donuts at a time, and enjoys food from fast food outlets. He is trying to lose weight now after realising that he cannot run as fast.”

Valk said, “I have a few friends who do not participate in activities outside of PE [physical education], but they are conscious about their weight. To lose weight, they tend to skip their meals at school knowing that they wouldn’t be allowed to do the same at home.”