One in every three Emirati children is obese in the emirate of Abu Dhabi amidst a general increasing trend of obesity in all age groups, a scientific study reveals.
Recommending a national strategy to tackle the rising problem, the researchers also warned parents to modify the food habits of their children and make them habitued to physical activities.
“A national strategy would improve the current level of childhood obesity and prevent its deleterious health consequences,” said Dr Abdullah Al Junaibi, consultant endocrinologist at Zayed Military Hospital, and Dr Abdishakur Abdullah, medical research specialist at UAE University, at a press conference yesterday (Tuesday).
The alarm was sounded when more than 1,400 schoolchildren from grade 1 to 12 were examined in Abu Dhabi by the research team. The students were randomly selected from 23 out of 246 public schools and their parents in Abu Dhabi, Al Gharbia (Western Region), and Al Ain. The study used internationally recognised methods to classify children’s weight status.
Obesity is an increasing public health problem for schoolchildren. “We examined the prevalence of overweight, obesity and associated behavioural factors including television viewing, food habits and physical activity along with measuring the height and weight of the students,” said Dr Al Junaibi.
Dr Abdullah said that obesity was an escalating epidemic affecting many countries in the world including the Gulf region. “Obesity among children is a concern because it may have long-term health consequence,” he said.
Major dietary changes include a large increase in the consumption of fat and added sugar in the diet, often a marked increase in animal food products contrasted with a fall in total cereal intake, vegetable, and fruits consumption, he said.
The study results showed that in all age groups, the overall prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity was 34 per cent (14.2 per cent overweight and 19.8 per cent obese) among Emirati children and adolescents — both boys and girls combined.
In addition, the study revealed age-related variation in the prevalence of childhood overweight or obesity. It was 22.8 per cent in the age group of 6-10, 40.1 per cent in the age group of 11-15 and 39 per cent in the age group of 16-19. Being overweight was more common among girls, and obesity more common among boys.
“There were, however, no differences in the prevalence of obesity in the three main regions of Abu Dhabi emirate,” said the researchers.
Staff Brigadier Dr Mohammad Sabeel Al Dhanhani, commander of the Medical Services Corps, praised the efforts of the research team and reiterated his support to the medical staff in their quest to effectively contribute in scientific research and health care for the community. He stressed that these studies and research represent credible proof of the close cooperation between UAE University and the Medical Services Corps. Dr Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, Vice Chancellor of the UAE University, also praised the researchers.
The study, titled the prevalence and potential determinants of obesity among schoolchildren and adolescents in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, UAE”, had contributions from Professor Nico Nagelkerke, Dr Sufian Sabri and Dr Mohammad Hag Ali. The findings of this study have recently been published in the International Journal of Obesity.