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

Friday - - Inside -

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

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