Childhood Obesity
December 3rd, 2012, Safa Khairy

Childhood Obesity

Obesity is a growing concern in the region with some of the world’s fattest countries, belonging to the GCC. A study published in the BMC public health journal places Kuwait (5), Qatar (8), UAE (11) and Bahrain (17) amongst the twenty fattest nations on earth (with KSA at 21st).

Many health experts and commentators believe the incidence of childhood obesity in the UAE is even more severe and 2011 figures from a nationwide survey of Emirati and expatriate schoolchildren by the Ministry of Health (MoH) stated that 15.5 per cent are obese, 39.2 per cent are overweight. It is generally accepted that children and adolescents who are overweight are at greater risk of health problems, sleep apnea and social and psychological issues.

A YouGov omnibus survey of 1057 respondents was conducted between the 15-22nd of October examining the views of UAE residents on childhood obesity.

  • 49% of respondents think childhood obesity is “quite a big problem” in the UAE and another 38% say it is “a huge problem”.
  • 62% of respondents with children under the age of 18 say they are unaware of the number of daily calories recommended for children.
  • 73% of those respondents say they go out for meals at restaurants, café’s and cafeterias with their children twice a week.
  • 71% of respondents say their children eat fast food twice a week.

While food and eating habits play a major role in childhood obesity, exercise and activity are just as important to maintaining a healthy weight. When asked about the activity and exercise habits of their children

  • 37% of respondents say their kids exercise or engage in a form of physical activity twice a week for at least one hour.
  • 26% say their children do not exercise at all during the week
  • 16% say their children exercise or engage in physical activities on a daily basis for at least one hour.

Respondents believe various factors cause and contribute to the rise in the number of overweight children.

  • Lack of exercise (57%)
  • Fast food restaurants offering incentives (toys) for kids (46%)
  • Malls and other popular locations being full of unhealthy food chains (31%)
  • Parents being bad role models for their children (29%)
  • Unhealthy food being cheaper than the healthy options (27%)
  • Cultural issues surrounding eating (20%)

Whilst identifying the problem of childhood obesity is half the battle, finding ways to tackle it are also essential. Respondents say education and teaching children about good eating habits at school (25%) and parents encouraging their children to do more physical activity (21%) are the best ways to tackle childhood obesity.