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Chunky Children: Childhood obesity becoming a large problem in Dubai

If you’re like many expats in Dubai, you are living a modern lifestyle and enjoying everything that comes along with it. Comfortable accommodations, readily available living basics, the latest technology, and even a variety of luxury items will all come along with first world life in 2019, but there are still problems that can come along with affluence. These include problems with maintaining proper nutrition and a healthy level of activity. These problems aren’t just limited to ourselves, either.

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Indeed, despite our best attempts to raise our children the right away, they can still fall into some seriously unhealthy habits. It’s our responsibility as parents to lead our kids away from the growing scourge that is childhood obesity, as being overweight can lead to a whole host of serious physical health issues, not to mention possible social, emotional, and mental ones.  Pacific Prime Dubai has prepared the below article on the current state of childhood obesity here, as well as what can be done to battle against it.

Dubai childhood obesity facts and figures

If there is one country in the world that you would think of when overweight people are mentioned, there’s a good chance it would be the United States. The country is known for its large food portions and high rate of consumption. As an example, it has been calculated that about 30% of the US population, including both adults and children, are overweight. This is why it’s so surprising to find out that this rate in UAE is ~33% among children between the ages of 5-17!

With regards to the UAE specifically, in 2013 the World Obesity Federation found that 12.40% of the country’s children were obese. Even more troubling, this rate has been predicted to rise to 14.62% by 2020. While this change may not seem significant, it actually constitutes a bit of an explosion in child obesity rates that has Dubai doctors worried. Dr. Thomson Thomas of Universal Hospital further mirrored his concern, telling the Khaleej Times that boys in the UAE are 1.8 times more likely to be obese than the international average, while girls are 1.9 times more likely.

Anecdotally, one pediatrics specialist– as reported in the Middle East Insurance Review – stated that 15-20% of the 850 patients she sees each month are overweight or clinically obese. Most of these patients are Emiratis, which points to a significant proportion of the patients in question coming from affluent families. That the doctor has also stated that ~80% of her overweight patients also have parents that are overweight or obese further supports the notion of affluence being a strong factor in their weight.

Causes of childhood obesity

So what’s causing the trend of children frequently becoming obese in Dubai and the UAE? There are plenty of details that can be looked into to try to answer this question, but in a nutshell, it mostly comes down to diet and exercise.

The simple fact is that children in affluent Dubai households oftentimes have food of dubious nutritional content that is readily available to them at all times. Furthermore, for a number of reasons kids today are not getting enough exercise to burn off their daily caloric intake.

One such reason for this, as pointed out by a survey published in the Khaleej Times, is the amount of ‘screen time’ that Dubai children are putting in today. Whether it’s watching videos on YouTube, playing video games, browsing social media, or any of the other various activities one can do with a computer or smartphone, children today are being allowed too much time with their technology, and not enough time playing and engaging in physical activity. After all, around 90% of children in the UAE have access to attention-grabbing mobile devices.

Even though most parents covered within the survey the article mentions stated that they made outdoor activity a priority for their kids, we still see the childhood obesity rate rising steadily. Indeed, 69% of survey respondents admitted to allowing their children to have more than two and a half hours of screen time each day.

Child obesity prevention and treatment

First and foremost, the management of a child’s weight starts with their parents. It is important that parents take an active role in monitoring and guiding a child’s diet and exercise habits towards health living.

It starts from pregnancy, too. The World Health Organization recommends that mothers maintain a healthy weight prior to conception to avoid becoming obese themselves while pregnant. (It’s important to note here that women should not attempt to lose weight while pregnant, as this can be dangerous to their child.) Additionally, the WHO recommends breastfeeding during infancy as a step towards infant obesity prevention.

Schools in the UAE have surely been trying to do their part to prevent their students from becoming overweight. Ever since September 2017, the Human Development Authority and the Dubai Health Authority have combined forces to enforce a policy dictating that students will engage in half an hour of exercise daily. As well, more and more Dubai schools have started taking unhealthy options off of their menus.

Recognizing the issue at hand, the government has made other efforts to aid in helping kids maintain a healthy weight. For example, the DHA partnered with Danone Nutrition and Right Bite Express on the ‘Health Plate Mates Project’ that aimed to promote and reinforce health-eating habits for toddlers.

Of course, if your child is already overweight or obese, it’s never too late to start them down the road to good health. It’s always a good idea to start any such effort by talking to your child’s doctor in order to develop a plan of action. With this in place, it will be easier for a parent to make sure they are taking the right steps, as well as provide an additional layer of support for both parent and child.

Any questions?

Now that you know more about childhood obesity in Dubai, and the larger UAE, it’s time to make sure that your kids are living and staying healthy on a day-to-day basis. Keep in mind that while a new, healthy habit can be ingrained into a person of any age with just a couple weeks of practice, it is incredibly easy to fall out of a healthy lifestyle, and back into one full of unhealthy food and sedentary living, so vigilance is needed.

With this in mind, if you have any additional questions about how insurance can address any health problems stemming from obesity, whether in children or adults, please contact the helpful Dubai health insurance experts at Pacific Prime Dubai! They will be more than happy to provide you with information, as well as with a comparison of top plans on the market and a free price quotation. Contact us today!

Senior Content Creator at Pacific Prime United Arab Emirates
Serena Fung is a Senior Content Creator at Pacific Prime, a global insurance brokerage and employee specialist serving over 1.5 million clients in 15 offices across the world. With 2+ years of experience writing about the subject, she aims to demystify the world of insurance for readers with the latest updates, guides and articles on the blog.

Serena earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia, Canada. As such, she is an avid advocate of mental health and is fascinated by all things psychology (especially if it’s cognitive psychology!).

Her previous work experience includes teaching toddlers to read, writing for a travel/wellness online magazine, and then a business news blog. These combined experiences give her the skills and insights she needs to explain complex ideas in a succinct way. Being the daughter of an immigrant and a traveler herself, she is passionate about educating expats and digital nomads on travel and international health insurance.