DUBAI: The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) — which works for children’s rights, their survival, development and protection — expects the number of diabetics in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to increase to almost 59 million by 2030.
The organisation recently participated in a United Nations seminar in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where it was revealed that more than 34 million people suffer from this disease in the MENA region.
During the seminar, Unicef shared its success in the fight against childhood obesity with the support of its partners — the General Women’s Union and the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the Ministry of Education, Ambulatory Health Services (SEHA) and Abu Dhabi Education Council.
The programme was implemented under the patronage of Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, wife of late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and president of UAE Women’s Association and Chairman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood.
Dr Dalia Haroun, programmes consultant for Unicef Gulf area office, said that the programme aims to increase awareness on how to live a healthier lifestyle by providing participating students with health education sessions and physical activity. The programme also provides health workshops for parents and staff, and psychology workshops for school staff.
Dr Haroun said, “The programme is a great success and has received acclaim and positive feedback from students and parents. This positive interaction encouraged us to accelerate the launch of the second phase of the programme during the current academic year, which includes government schools in the emirates of Ajman and Umm Al Quwain.”
The first phase of the obesity prevention programme was implemented during the previous academic year (2011-2012) and included eight government schools (four in Abu Dhabi and four in Dubai) as well as two schools in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Ibrahim El-Ziq, Unicef representative for the Gulf Area, stressed that the interest in obesity stems from its direct relationship with non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory diseases and diabetes. He pointed out that the number of worldwide deaths caused by non-communicable diseases totalled 36 million out of 57 million deaths annually, with studies confirming that obesity was the cause of 44 per cent of all diabetes cases and 23 per cent of coronary heart disease.
Dr El-Ziq focused on the importance of the learning environment in enhancing the awareness and promotion to combat obesity, where children spend most of their time each day in schools.
He explained, “The school environment is integrated. Besides lessons, there are activities such as physical activities, health and nutrition, therefore the school is the ideal environment for health promotion and integrated access to children as well as their parents. Here, the role of the ministries of education and health complement one another in achieving this common goal.”
The Unicef representative to the Gulf Area stressed the important role of the media, especially television, in influencing the choices of society, in particular children.
The United Nations has recommended a reduction in mass marketing directed at children of foods and beverages with a high percentage of sugars, salt and fat, especially saturated fat.
He stressed that the success of obesity awareness campaigns depend on the cooperation of private sector companies working in the field of nutrition and urged them to carry out corporate social responsibility projects in the communities in which they operate.