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Healthy eating and active living will tackle obesity

Healthy eating and active living will tackle obesity

Published on: September 2015​ Genre: Knowledge Sharing​ Category: Op eds​

Obesity in the UAE is three times greater than the international norm. Our young people (ages 10-18) are a staggering 1.8 times more obese than those in the United States according to a US National Health and Nutrition Examination   survey. Obese teenagers are far more likely to develop conditions that seriously affect both quality and length of life. 
The UAE Vision 2021 includes the admirable aim of developing a worldclass healthcare system. A key indicator under this aim is a reduction in the prevalence of obesity among children. In 2010, 54.7 per cent of children in the UAE were identified as obese. The Vision 2021 target is to reduce that to 31 per cent. 
Initiatives aimed at reducing obesity are evident across the country. These efforts have been welcomed by doctors, academics and researchers but observers remain concerned that more could be done. 
How can the UAE curb obesity? One option is a public health campaign in  schools. “HEAL” – for Healthy Eating and Active Living – could be a vehicle to promote healthier lifestyles and good nutrition through changing eating habits and choices. The goal of the HEAL campaign would be to equip young people with  ways of improving what they eat and how they eat it through practice and exercises. Simple changes can have a huge positive effect and by working together with young people to change their behaviour, that change is more likely to be  sustainable. 
Three practical strategies could be introduced immediately. First, is an information and counselling campaign on the ineffectiveness of popular diets. Diets are like fashion: different trends come and go, and very few have  a lasting effect. Let’s get young people to think about realistic food plans. 
Second, convert those plans into a foodie contract. Once the young person has designed a plan they believe they can stick to, get them to write it down. The  contract should state what their plan is and also, crucially, the motives for doing it. This should then be shared: ask them to show it to friends, colleagues and family members. We’re all more likely to keep a promise if it’s public.
Third, help to make healthy eating and active living a habit. Many dietitians and nutritionists have suggested that it usually takes 21 days to develop a new habit. A key activity of a HEAL campaign should therefore be supporting the formation of healthy eating habits. This might be done by creating peer support groups to promote eating a healthy breakfast as part of a daily routine. Parents, guardians and caretakers can play a part too – for example, getting involved in designing meal plans that work for them too. 
Any public health campaign should of course be underpinned by good science. An ideal healthy food plate is one that is colourful, full of nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins – all in the right proportions), and just the right size. 
Healthy eating should also be complemented by active living to help to control blood lipid abnormalities, diabetes and obesity. Daily activity – such as running, swimming or sports in general – is important and could be championed in schools. 
Obesity among children and youth is a major health concern. Prevention is better than cure – and a public health campaign delivered in  partnership with schools, like the one outlined above, could help many children to avoid obesity and its associated conditions completely. 
The campaign and schools would be the front-line: for this to work, coordinated action is needed across the Government, the health authorities and policymakers in general, but it can be done. 

Ref: healthy-eating-and-active-living-will-tackle-obesity

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