National UAE Taskforce on Obesity held its first meeting earlier this month Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A special team is developing a series of strategies and a roadmap to combat childhood obesity in the UAE, which is known to hasten the onset of lifestyle conditions like cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said on Tuesday.

The National UAE Taskforce on Obesity, which is tasked with combatting obesity in children aged five to 17 years, held its first meeting earlier this month, and is working based on directives of the UAE government. These directives follow recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which urges authorities to use healthy eating, weight management, pre- and post-conception care, physical activity in early childhood, and healthy nutrition in school to tackle childhood obesity.

Lasting complications

Dr Hussain Al Rand

“Children with obesity are at greater risk of health complications, including the accelerated onset of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In addition to this, obesity can lead to stigmatisation, bullying and poor socialisation, resulting in psychological difficulties such as depression and low self-esteem. Most children with obesity will also continue to obesity in adulthood if left untreated. Therefore, the consequences of childhood obesity extend beyond health and childhood, affecting educational and future earning abilities and socioeconomic status,” said Dr Hussain Al Rand, assistant undersecretary for the public health at the MoHAP.

“Combating obesity is [therefore] a public health priority, while treating it requires raising awareness about obesity and its complications. Therefore, the taskforce strives to develop a way to deal with obesity, based on what has been achieved in the past years to reduce obesity in the UAE.”

Collaborative efforts

The UAE taskforce includes members from the MoHAP, Dubai Health Authority, Abu Dhabi Department of Health, and the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.

In its statement, the MoHAP said the taskforce will coordinate between different entities to implement a phased action plan. Entities will also coordinate with one another to launch nationwide efforts, including monitoring of existing programmes and trends.

“Building a healthy society is our ultimate goal. This requires concerted efforts between individuals, policy-makers and legislation, government and private institutions, the media, food manufacturers and suppliers, and schools. We are all required to work on developing a national standard on how to deal with obesity in order to provide comprehensive healthcare for overweight people, thus reducing the burden of disease and mitigating pressure on health facilities,” Dr Al Rand said.

The official underscored the importance of data-driven actions to combat obesity. Obesity monitoring and surveillance allows us to keep track of obesity trends and fully understand its determinants, treatment options, economic impact, and policy consequences. Reliable data is also essential for monitoring the progress and effectiveness of programmes and interventions, he said.