Nearly 40 per cent of schoolchildren in the UAE are overweight  and according to one countrywide survey, 15 per cent are obese.
Health authorities attribute these alarming figures to the growing trend among children to consume too much fast food  and exercise very little.
“Children lack [physical] movement,” said Dr Fathia Hatim Ebrahim Mohammad Al Ma’azmi, Head of Health Promotion, Dubai Health Authority (DHA), commenting on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) report that states that children today are far less active than their parents were when they were young.
Globalisation, she said, is leading to more and more children adopting unhealthy eating habits and moving away from their traditional diets. The problem, according to her, exists worldwide.
“The [obesity] figures in the US will be higher,” she said.
Dr Mandar V. Bichu, specialist paediatrician based in Sharjah, attributes this troubling trend to parents using gadgets as baby-minders and an inadequate number of play areas for children.
“This is a serious problem,” he said, noting that a lack of physical activity leads to metabolic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. With no exercise to burn off excess calories, fat accumulates in the body.
“Today, young people also suffer from cardiovascular diseases,” he said.
Lack of exercise also has a negative impact on children in the long run, he said. He recommends at least 30 minutes of energetic physical activity every day for children and adults.
The good news, however, is that beginning 2014, all schools in Dubai will be initiating physical activity programmes in their curricula .