It was a grim outlook, despite the boisterous atmosphere that saw 35-40 children participate in the ‘Act Now’ campaign that has been in launched in Dubai to battle childhood obesity in the country.
With figures that indicate over 35 per cent of UAE children are battling obesity from as young as four years, health experts are warning that this epidemic will kill more people in the world than any war casualty.
Speaking to Emirates 24|7, Dr Liza Thomas, Specialist Internal Medicine at Canadian Specialist Hospital said: “Today there are 10-year-olds who are coming to us with clogged arteries that resembles that of a 60-year-old who has spent a lifetime consuming junk food.
“The day isn’t far when obesity will claim more lives than any war on this planet.
“The next pandemic to wipe out the planet will not be another ice age, but obesity.”
According to Dr Thomas, nearly 50 per cent of the UAE’s adult population is obese, with a split of three women out of every four and two men out of every three persons, directly correlating to the growing annual percentage of incidences in children.
“Parents have to take responsibility in providing a healthy example for their children to follow,” said Dr Thomas.
“If you continue to set a diet of junk food in front of them, this is exactly what they will grow towards.”
She added: “If parents are into the habit of reaching for a can of soda during their meal, how can you expect a child to know or learn otherwise?
“After all, what enters the refrigerator at home is a parent’s responsibility.
If sweets, deep fried foods and soft drinks make their way there, it is the adult who has purchased it and stuffed it in there for the child to reach for.”
Dr Thomas dismisses the argument that children simply don’t eat healthy food.
“If Popeye could make spinach cool to consume, then parents need to conjure up ways to make even healthy food appear interesting,” she explained.
“If your child wants ice cream, reach for a fruit yoghurt that is healthy and still good to taste. There is always a choice.”
However, she said that denying a child entirely of a treat could also be harmful.
“Treats are always a good way to entice a child,” she explained.
“Don’t deprive them, but make them understand that such foods are not for daily consumption but just for special occasions.”
Twelve-year-old Rushad Saklatwalla said his mom only allows them junk food over the weekend.
“We have rules in the house and all of us have to follow those where eating healthy is concerned,” the young boy said.
“We wait for the weekend for such a treats and there are usually no exceptions.
“But mom is also very strict that we play outdoors and do something physical. So I swim, play basketball and tennis too.”
Dr Thomas too stressed on the importance of physical activity in young children.
“Ideally, they should play outdoors every day, but the heat here can be quite intense. In such instances, parents should find an indoor play area where their child can partake in some physical activity,” she said.
However, even the good doctor agreed that for working parents without any help, it is quite difficult for them to take children to play areas every day, especially since they are so limited in number in Dubai.
“Challenges will always be there, but we have to find effective ways around them,” she explained.
“And naturally, the responsibility is not just with the parents but also the school to ensure children are being educated in physical health and also being taught to eat healthy.
“Considering a child spends the better part of the day in school, obesity is a serious issue that should be tackled also on an academic level by creating more awareness amongst children.”
Ten-year-old Youstina Aziz said: “My school has regular workshops where they teach us about obesity and what sort of healthy foods we should eat and what sort of sports we need to play.
“Also, in school we are not allowed to bring in junk food so my mom makes sure I have a healthy lunch packed with me every day.”
Dr Thomas also requested the community at large to help children adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“Bombarding children with images of burgers and pizzas upon entering a mall is a sign of temptation,” she said.
“Also, the health authorities should ban MSG in food items here, which are known to create addiction. Other countries have adopted this healthy lifestyle; it’s now our turn.”