Schools in Dubai still dish­ing up junk food

Chips and choco­late on the menu de­spite alarm­ing lev­els of obe­sity

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Nawal Al Ramahi @nawal_ramahi

Some Dubai schools con­tinue to serve up junk in their can­teens – five years af­ter author­i­ties asked them to cut out fatty foods.

Health and ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials said they found fries, crois­sants and choco­late on sale in a se­ries of in­spec­tions in re­cent months.

Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity crit­i­cised the schools as it was re­vealed that a stag­ger­ing 64,000 pupils aged be­tween five and 17 in the city are over­weight or obese – 33 per cent of the to­tal school pop­u­la­tion.

Dubai Health Author­ity and Dubai Sports Coun­cil are also in­volved in the study, which aims to un­der­stand what is caus­ing so many young peo­ple to pile on the pounds.

Noura Al Shamsi, Head of Food Per­mits and Ap­plied Nutri­tion at the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s Food Safety Depart­ment, said: “Nearly 64,000 pupils are over­weight and obese due to bad eat­ing habits and barely do­ing any phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

“Obe­sity is a com­plex prob­lem in the UAE and in­deed around the world. There­fore, we will be fo­cus­ing on en­sur­ing chil­dren learn healthy habits from a young age.”

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity first asked schools to cut out sweets, choco­late, en­ergy drinks, fries, flavoured milk, sweet­ened yo­ghurt and crisps in 2011. Then in 2014 they re­it­er­ated the re­quest in a de­tailed doc­u­ment on school menus.

Al Shamsi said the bat­tle against obe­sity has to be­gin in school – but said many in­sti­tu­tions are slow to pick up the mes­sage and some have sim­ply ig­nored it.

In a project car­ried out this year, two schools, one in Deira and one in Bur Dubai, were asked to ditch junk food al­to­gether. Al Shamsi said: “The mu­nic­i­pal­ity car­ried out a healthy eat­ing pi­lot in two schools in re­cent months to test out new healthy eat­ing menus – but the Bur Dubai school shunned the scheme and con­tin­ued to of­fer junk food.” The author­i­ties can­not is­sue an out­right ban on junk food and can­not fine schools for not ad­dress­ing their re­quest. The obe­sity bat­tle will be de­bated at the First Dubai In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Ap­plied Nutri­tion will be held on Novem­ber 7-8 at Dubai In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre. Al Shamsi said: “We have a lack of reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies that can sup­port our ac­tions to tackle nu­tri­tional is­sues. “Through the con­fer­ence on Ap­plied Nutri­tion, we want to look at the poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions around the world and adopt the best prac­tices.” All schools will have to ad­dress healthy eat­ing in new classes, she added. Nutri­tion­ist Dr Hala Bargh­outi said pupils can still can buy junk food from su­per­mar­kets. She said: “There­fore, a class that would ed­u­cate pupils about the risk of bad eat­ing habits will help them adopt eat­ing healthy prac­tices.”

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