Child obesity cases will continue to rise in the UAE, affecting 14.62 per cent of its '20 years and under' population by 2020, up from 12.40 per cent in 2013, according to the World Obesity Federation.
It is up to the parents to stop the alarming numbers from increasing, said the doctors in the UAE, who urged parents to ensure the health of their children come first.
"The very first thing we need to do is to raise awareness about the rising numbers. As doctors, we know that these numbers are severely increasing, but common people don't," said Dr Tomson Thomas, consultant, pediatric surgeon, Universal Hospital.
Dr Thomas said childhood obesity in the UAE is higher than the international level in developed countries, including the US and the UK.
He said childhood obesity in male children in the UAE are 1.8 times more than the international level, and female children are 1.9 times more. "The next generation will be more prone to diseases, including heart diseases, liver diseases, lung diseases and metabolic diseases, all because of the current high figures. The future will face severe problems if the numbers don't decrease now."
Archana Baju, clinical dietitian at Burjeel Hospital, said it is up to the parents to start making the necessary changes. "It is scary to think how parents can even let their children reach the extent of obesity. Although combating these figures is a challenge, parents must understand that a healthy lifestyle starts at home."
Baju said that more than 20 per cent of the young patients at the hospital, are overweight or obese. Moreover, she stressed that a whopping 80 per cent of the UAE population are vitamin D deficient, and this figure has a lot to do with obesity.
"Because parents are not taking their kids outside enough, they not only lack physical activity but also lack vitamin D."
She added that the health authorities in the UAE are making many positive initiatives about healthy meal choices for kids, whereas many parents "are still not taking their children's health seriously".
She said that many parents in the UAE are still turning to packaged meals and heavily processed foods, that contain high amounts of artificial flavouring, colouring, preservatives, sugar, salt and fat, which are not only leading to childhood obesity, but are also linked to deadly diseases in the long run.
Baju pointed out that many parents rely more on nannies to take care of their children, than themselves. "Even when I ask the child 'what did you eat at home,' the child would turn and look at his nanny, because the mother doesn't even know what is being fed to her children."
She advised parents to ensure their children eat food from the basic five food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and milk.
"Parents are responsible for their children's wellbeing and health; and are exercising four to five times a week."
Juggling work, family life can be tough
Balancing a full-time job with family life can be tough at times, which is why nannies are often relied on when it comes to feeding the kids, parents explained.
"Our nanny at home prepares the breakfast and lunch for the kids, whereas I prepare the dinner as soon as I arrive home from work," said Nadia Mohammed.
"Although I am busy at work, I still make sure that my children are being fed healthy, nutritious meals when I am not around because I simply don't allow junk food to enter our home," added the interior designer.
Mohanad Al Mashat, a father of two, said dads have as much of an important role in ensuring the children are eating healthy, as the mothers do.
"Both parents play a huge role when it comes to how the children end up in their future, whether they are fit and healthy, or not. Dads need to encourage their kids to play more sport, and spend more time outside, instead of being locked inside in front of a television screen."
He advises parents to only allow children to watch TV or play with the iPad once a week, as a "treat".
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