Whose re­spon­si­bil­ity is it?

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and out­door play (from rid­ing bikes to school to play­ing in the park ev­ery evening) is to blame, while Ah­mad Zah­dan of ed­u­ca­tional sport­ing acad­emy MPAC Sports, which has a his­tory of in­volve­ment in phys­i­cal-ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum de­vel­op­ment, be­lieves that kids are sim­ply not be­ing in­tro­duced to sports at a young enough age and par­ents are not pri­ori­tis­ing fit­ness.

Haddin says, “Es­tab­lish­ing the habit of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity early in a child’s de­vel­op­ment is crit­i­cal to their long-term health.” The con­se­quence for our off­spring if we don’t, is a long list of life-threat­en­ing ail­ments: high choles­terol and blood pres­sure, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, type 2 di­a­betes, kid­ney fail­ure and asthma. Not to men­tion the emo­tional bur­den of be­ing fat – so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion, low self-es­teem and hin­drance in both aca­demic and so­cial func­tion­ing. Thank­fully, this dire pre­dic­tion is just one pos­si­ble out­come. The other, in­volv­ing ac­tion, is much more pos­i­tive. And lo­cal govern­ment has be­gun tak­ing ac­tion.

Af­ter find­ing in a sur­vey* that some 47 per cent of Dubai schools (pub­lic and pri­vate) sub­sti­tute PE with other lessons, the Dubai Health Au­thor­ity (DHA) has put in place the Phys­i­cal Ac­tiv­ity at School Pol­icy 2013-2015 to en­sure pri­mary stu­dents get 150 min­utes ex­er­cise per week and high school stu­dents, 225 min­utes. Steps in the right di­rec­tion cer­tainly, but are they enough?

One man thinks not. Basel Shouly, pres­i­dent of C-Pi Ed­u­ca­tional Sys­tems & School Man­age­ment Ser­vices, runs a weight loss camp and be­lieves he is fill­ing “a ter­ri­ble ed­u­ca­tional vac­uum that’s been over­looked by schools”. While Basel con­cedes that gov­ern­ments across the re­gion have re­sponded to the obe­sity epi­demic, he be­lieves they have done so on med­i­cal grounds. “We be­lieve the re­sponse to the obe­sity epi­demic should have been ed­u­ca­tional – through schools, fam­ily and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes,” he ex­plains. “But be­cause obe­sity among chil­dren is con­sid­ered a health risk, it has been left to health min­istries to tackle. It’s like go­ing to the den­tist for heart surgery.”

Ul­ti­mately, though, it comes down to par­ents to take ac­tion. “Fit­ness is not only a phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, it is a re­spon­si­bil­ity,” says Solange Dryro of Dubai-based fa­cil­i­ta­tion com­pany, Level Up Skills. “By im­prov­ing your child’s ac­tiv­ity lev­els, you are help­ing them be­come aware of their re­spon­si­bil­ity to their own body.” He’s right. Gov­ern­ments can run ev­ery health cam­paign un­der the UAE sun and com­pa­nies can open the flashiest fit­ness fa­cil­i­ties, but un­less par­ents are role-mod­el­ling healthy habits and pro­vid­ing their chil­dren with op­por­tu­ni­ties for an ac­tive life­style, there’s likely to be lit­tle dent in the fat stats. And mak­ing the ex­cuse that with sum­mer upon us, it’s sim­ply too hot to ex­er­cise, is no longer valid, as we don’t need to head out­side to get our kicks. As Anouar Idrissi, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Football Cen­ter, Dubai, says, “The idea that to keep fit and healthy you have to get out on the street and run five kilo­me­tres is wrong. There are a huge num­ber of in­door sports ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able across the UAE. You have to make a com­mit­ment to ex­er­cise. If you want to make sure your chil­dren are healthy there re­ally is noth­ing to stop them ex­er­cis­ing.”

Rise of the sum­mer camp

Big in the US, where their out­door res­i­den­tial camps are al­most a rite of pas­sage for most tweens and teens, sum­mer camps have hit the UAE with a vengeance. They of­fer a rich ex­er­cise-packed, health-fo­cused ex­pe­ri­ence

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