Fighting fit not fat!
With childhood obesity rates in the UAE growing faster than our supersized waistlines, Kate Birch discovers how summer sport camps could be the secret weapon in the fight against fat
It’s the fault of us parents apparently. We’re consuming 3,000 calories each a day – that’s 500 more than the world average – and teaching our children to overeat. That’s one of the reasons why more than half of schoolchildren in the UAE are overweight or obese – one of the highest rates in the world. There’s no doubt we’re in the middle of an obesity crisis, with youngsters aged from eight to 13 in the highest risk category. Children are facing a future of high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, asthma and type 2 diabetes. Too much time watching TV, playing computer games and a lack of activity, along with high-fat, takeaway meals and a sedentary lifestyle are to blame. Until recently many kids didn’t even have to do PE lessons, with 47 per cent of private and public schools substituting sports with other classes.
As our story on reveals, the Dubai Health Authority has taken steps to ensure primary schoolchildren get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. But we can tackle the problem by changing our lifestyles and playing sports with our children. Even the busiest of us can help them by enrolling them in a summer camp where they’ll make friends and lose weight. Surely it’s the least we can do? Until next week,
Last summer, I took my seven-year-old son to a sports camp, one he’s been happily attending since he was four. This time was different though. I also took along one of his friends. It was tough. Not for him, but for his mum, my friend, who wasn’t keen to let her son go. Her reluctance was not about the money (she’s loaded), or her son being away from her (she works full-time) – she simply could not understand the benefits a sports camp could offer. She insisted he would be better off at home studying.
Her son may well have been hitting academic highs, but fuelled by a steady stream of fast food and computer games, his idea of play, he was sinking to new lows in the health stakes. He is seven years old and he is obese.
His story, sadly, is a familiar one. Fact: the UAE is facing a major obesity crisis. Now the fifth-heaviest country in the world, according to UK-based Journal BMC Public Health (June 2012) adults in the UAE are consuming more than 3,000 calories a day – that’s 500 more than the world average. If the country’s supposed role models are doing this, imagine what their offspring are doing.
What they are clearly not doing however is activity, if the startling statistics are anything to go by. A country-wide survey of both Emirati and expat school kids by the Ministry of Health in 2011 revealed that more than half (54.7 per cent) of children in the UAE are obese or overweight. This is one of the highest rates in the world, with kids aged 8-13 in the most atrisk category. So what exactly is going wrong?
“It’s simple really. There are more calories being consumed than being burnt and kids learn this from their parents,” says Raz Khan of Dubai-based sports camp company Excel Sports. “The lazy lifestyle and unhealthy eating becomes part of their adopted culture and is soon intrinsic to their lifestyle.”
The problem is that we live in an environment that encourages obesity, with inactivity the root cause. Kids are simply doing less and less, with technology (from cars to computers) and convenience (food deliveries and valet parking) promoting sedentary lifestyles.
In her Columbia University study on childhood obesity in the UAE in 2011, Kelly Scott cited “too much TV/Internet, and therefore, inactivity,” as the main culprit of regional childhood obesity.
Michael Haddin, owner of Haddins Fitness in Abu Dhabi, says lack of incidental exercise