A study on healthy eating and nutrition awareness in GCC countries, which was recently commissioned by Kraft Foods, has revealed that more than 60 percent of GCC-national mothers felt that their children were not receiving a balanced diet. The study aimed to determine the attitudes, practices and perceptions of mothers on their families' nutrition and eating habits. More than 850 mothers from the UAE, Kuwait and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) participated in the month-long study.
The study revealed that UAE mothers were aware of the types of food containing high nutritional value, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese and eggs. Yet, many of them said their children were not eating a balanced diet as their meals did not have sufficient protein, iron, calcium and vitamins.
A nutritionist at Dubai London Clinic, Stephanie Karl, advised that the key to ensuring a balanced food intake is to prepare healthy and wholesome traditional meals for at least 80 percent of the week, starting with breakfast. "Breakfast is an important meal of the day. It is an ideal time for mothers to ensure that their children get at least half their daily intake of calcium either from a glass of milk, or a portion of yogurt or cheese. When we have breakfast out of home, the choices are not necessarily always healthy", said Karl.
Karl also advised mothers to talk to their children about their health and teach them how to snack correctly. "Snacks are very important but make them count and be nutrient dense rather than energy dense. Snacks such as crackers and light cheese such as Philadelphia, a sandwich with peanut butter, milk smoothies, noodles, mac n cheese, popcorn, dried fruit and nuts are all good choices along with plenty of fruit. You can include fast foods and sodas as treats rather than everyday foods," said Karl.
"As one of the world's largest food companies, Kraft Foods is globally committed to raising awareness about healthy eating and nutrition in order to build stronger and more sustainable communities. The First Kraft Foods Healthy Eating and Nutrition GCC Awareness Study will enable us to help raise awareness amongst mothers and families in the region so that they can take informed decisions about their families' diet and nutritional wellbeing", said Vishal Tikku, Managing Director, Saudi Arabia and Shared Services, Kraft Food Middle East & Africa.
In the UAE, only 26 percent of the Emirati mothers surveyed said they are confident that their children are eating a balanced diet. Some 54 percent, however, felt otherwise and a further 20 percent said they do not know if their children are getting a balanced diet. Some 55 percent of Emirati mothers felt that their children should consume more iron, 51 percent said more vitamins ought to be consumed and 47 percent said more protein was needed in their children's daily diets.
According to the study, cholesterol was the number one concern for 66 percent of mothers surveyed in the UAE. This is in contrast to mothers in KSA and Kuwait whose main concern was calories. Some 54 percent of them claimed to exercise some to high control in monitoring their children's cholesterol consumption. However, 19 percent of UAE mothers said they are only somewhat concerned and 16 percent said that they are not concerned at all. Around 33 percent admitted to exercising little to low control in their children's cholesterol consumption.
Fat content ranked as the second biggest concern with 62 percent of UAE mothers responding accordingly. Some 58 percent said that they control the amounts of fat in their children's diet. More than 80 percent claimed they either always, mostly or sometimes read fat content labels on food products that they purchase. Yet, one out of four Emirati mothers said they are only somewhat concerned about fat content. Some 29 percent said that they exercise little or low control over the intake of fat and 20 percent said that they either rarely or never read the fat content on food labels.
Sugar intake in children's diet is another concern for 57 percent of UAE mothers, with half of them saying that they control their children's sugar intake. However 30 percent are only somewhat concerned about sugar intake and 16 percent are not concerned at all. Some 36 percent said they impose little or low control over how much sugar their children consume. Yet 74 percent of them claimed they either always, mostly or sometimes read sugar content labels on food products that they purchase.
With regards to calories, one in two Emirati mothers are concerned about how much their children are consuming. Around 37 percent said that they are only somewhat concerned. Also, 58 percent of them said that they exercise some to high levels of calorie-control in the children's diet, 30 percent apply low to little control over their children's calorie intake and 12 percent do not control it at all.
The reasons for the concern and even the lack of control over what their children eat were not studied but according to the Kraft Foods survey, only 47 percent of mothers said that they prepare breakfast at home daily. Yet some 61 percent claimed that their children are having daily breakfast. This finding points to the possibility that children could often be consuming breakfast out side of home where mothers have little or no control over their choice of foods they consume and thus become concerned.
Overall however, the study indicated that mothers in the UAE are cautious about what their children eat. Only 25 percent of UAE mothers who participated in the survey said that they permit their children to snack daily as opposed to 60 percent of mothers in KSA and 50 percent of mothers in Kuwait. Some 26 percent of UAE mothers said they allow their children to snack five to six times a week, 24 percent said three to four times a week and 20 percent said only once or twice a week. The most common snacks that UAE mothers give their children are beverages such as juices, flavoured milk, canned drinks and sodas, followed by biscuits and cookies, breads, and cheeses.
Recently Kraft Foods successfully rolled out the first Chapter of its Healthy Lifestyles and Wellness campaign in Jeddah, KSA, which was aimed at educating school children on the importance of healthy lifestyles. The initiative, held in cooperation with the Education Department in Jeddah, involved 150 students from 50 schools in Jeddah who participated in a dynamic dialogue about their opinions and insights on health, nutrition and wellness issues. The campaign will be implemented across the GCC next year.
The First Kraft Foods Health Eating and Nutrition GCC Awareness Study, will be conducted twice yearly. The study was conducted by Zarca Interactive, a US-based company established in digital feedback management solutions the Middle East.