Whose responsibility is it?
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