Abu Dhabi: Obesity and diabetes among children in the UAE, and the importance of strengthening partnerships for the integrated prevention and control of chronic diseases, were among a few topics underlined at the inaugural session of the two-day Arabian Public Health Forum 2010 on Monday.

Dr Mahmoud Fikree, health policies affairs CEO at the UAE Ministry of Health (MoH), called for a collaborative effort among health authorities, health care providers, and the community as a whole to help reverse the trend of emerging pandemics.

He said: "Health is not only an issue of the government but also a shared responsibility. We are responsible for our health and that of the next generation.

New challenges

"We need to work together, sustain the control and prevention of communicable diseases and at same time adapt our legislation to deal with new challenges."

A 1999 UAE study issued by Mafraq Hospital regarding obesity in children aged 5 to 17 shows that 13.7 per cent of children are obese, and 21.5 per cent are overweight. According to the Global School Health Survey, obesity in the UAE is ranked 10th globally (not including the South Pacific island nations), with more than 30 per cent of children aged 12 to 18 overweight and at risk of becoming obese, and 12.1 per cent of children aged 12 to 18 as obese.

"Even though not as bad as diabetes numbers that affect 19.6 of the UAE population, weight problems in the country stand as a challenge," added Fikree.

With 30 per cent of the UAE population in schools, the MoH, Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), and the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), introduced a school health programme last year. However that alone, said the MoH official, is not enough.

Parental responsibility

"Children spend six hours in school, and 16 hours at home. Introducing a school health programme is not enough, we also need parents to take responsibility of what their children eat at home. From our side, we are trying to be as transparent as possible through our data base and prevention methods," he said.