Dr Mohammed Zaheeruddin, specialist paediatrician at Medeor 24x7 Hospital in Dubai, called for parents and local authorities to do more to improve children’s dietary choices to combat the issues of obesity and diabetes. He said awareness in the UAE was improving, but this alone is not sufficient to improve children’s health.
“Over the last two years, not longer than that, a lot of school awareness is going on – even my kids are getting pamphlets from their teacher, they try to get more healthy stuff, cut down on sugar. The same thing is going on around Dubai and the UAE,” said Zaheeruddin.
“There’s more awareness among parents, and from public authorities, from the doctors, they are trying to do as much as possible. But I don’t think it’s enough to prevent these problems – maybe we need to go one step ahead, from the legal point of view to stop the people who sell sweets in every mall, and so on,” he added.
Parents must take responsibility
He welcomed the idea of a tax on sugar or junk food, but said such measures may not be practical at the moment. And while he particularly called out the sweet vendors in the UAE’s shopping malls, he said parents were the ones who needed to do the most, including changing how they use sweets in negotiations with their children.
“This is more from the parents – they are responsible for most of these things. Most parents make sweets a reward for the child – if you eat this, or do this, you’re going to get one chocolate, or something like that,” said Zaheeruddin.
“It’s getting to be more the parents’ responsibility – and they just want to relax. Ok, my child is fine, I can stop him doing this or that by giving him this foodstuff – he’s happy, so they’re busy in their own work. It lies on the parents to be very careful about these things – what they’re doing to make their child temporarily happy, ultimately they’re doing more harm to the child,” he added.
Can cutting sugar improve health?
The paediatrician highlighted the findings of a recent study, published in the journal Obesity, which showed reducing calories from sugar – even while maintaining the same overall calorific intake – can improve children’s health in as little as 10 days. While other experts have noted the study may be flawed, there is little doubt about the problem of excess sugar consumption in the UAE and other Gulf countries, which have some of the world’s highest rates of diabetes.
Along with parents, Zaheeruddin also called on food companies and local authorities to reduce the amount of junk food advertising in the UAE: “You see lots and lots of advertisements – on the roadside, on the radio, on the television – for the sugary stuff, chocolate, caramel, doughnuts, pastries. Definitely in Dubai, there’s more ads for artificial sugary stuff, compared to the UK.
“If we can do something to control that, maybe for the local government… this is something very serious. This is something we need to stop,” he added.