Nearly three-quarters of 5,000 students surveyed in the UAE do not exercise  or exercise for less than an hour a day, a new study has found. Experts recommend that children exercise for at least one hour a day.
The study was part of a Unicef program , which aims to fight the increasing rate of obesity among children in the UAE.
In 2010, a Global School Health Survey indicated that 40 per cent of students between 12 and 15 in the UAE were obese or overweight. 
This is a major concern because the UAE has been ranked 11th globally in terms of high prevalence of diabetes, a disease primarily linked to obesity and unhealthy eating habits.
In response to this rising concern, the General Women’s Union and Unicef launched a school program for the ‘Prevention of obesity in children,’ in a number of state schools in 2011-12. The programme aims to raise awareness among students, staff and parents on the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.
The project, which targets students in government schools between the ages of 12-15, was first implemented by collecting data such as height and weight and percentage of body fat. A student questionnaire collecting data on students’ knowledge of healthy eating and habits was also conducted.
Preliminary analysis of the data revealed that healthy eating awareness among girls was higher (59 per cent) than boys (58 per cent). It found that 21 per cent of students do not drink milk, and 55 per cent do not eat fruit, and 68 per cent do not exercise or exercise less than an hour a day.
This January, 2,000 students from four schools — Othman Bin Ali Aas Boys’ School and Al Baida school for girls in Ras Al Khaimah and Zaid Bin Al Khattab Boys’ School and Al Ibtihaj girls’ school in Fujairah — took part in the programme.
So far 5,000 students have benefited from the program during the first two phases from schools in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain.
As part of the program, Ola Saleh, Unicef nutritionist, organized workshops for mothers as they play a pivotal role in shaping the eating habits of the family.
“The eating habits practised at home will have a tremendous and direct effect on the dietary profile and health of children. As such, we seek to engage mothers so they can learn how to improve the nutrition of the family and promote a healthy lifestyle in their homes.”
The workshops addressed several topics, including the most prevalent dietary habits among students, how to cook in a healthy way, food safety, and answered audience questions about health and nutrition issues .
One mother at Al Baida School for girls in Ras Al Khaimah said: “I’m delighted that this project has been implemented in our school because I was worried about my daughter as I see that poor eating habits have become ‘routine’ for most students.”
The project follows an interactive approach such as games, healthy cooking contests, and experiments.