According to a recent study by McKinsey Global Institute, the rate of obesity in the UAE is twice the world average. This manifests itself in a high rate of type 2 diabetes, a condition that hardly existed in this part of the world 40 years ago but now affects one in five of the population, and other life-threatening diseases. Obesity is clearly a major concern and, like other lifestyle-related issues, it is one best addressed in childhood. That is why we welcome the three-week residential “boot camps” for overweight children that are being held at the Etisalat Academy in Dubai this summer.
As The National reported this week, the camps aim to teach children the basics of a healthy diet and the importance of physical exercise. As dietician Rita Martins points out, it is not about the aesthetics of looking good but about avoiding the medical conditions that are associated with being overweight or obese. Much has been written about the pressure on young girls to be supermodel-thin, but boys, too, are influenced about body shape thanks to their big-screen diet of action men and superheroes with impossible abdominals. The truth is that we are all different. Conforming to a certain type is not important, but maintaining a healthy weight and level of fitness is. Diet certainly plays an important role – we should all minimise our intake of fast food and fizzy drinks, and keep an eye on serving sizes – but physical activity is the key to attaining and maintaining good health.
The immediate challenge for the children attending these summer camps, and for their families, is to maintain a healthy lifestyle once they return home. And the best message they can carry with them is that healthy living doesn’t have to be a chore – it can be great fun. Municipal authorities, schools and community groups can also play a role by providing indoor and outdoor play areas – from formal football pitches, basketball courts and the like to big, open spaces where children can simply let their imaginations run free. If the healthy living message gets through, boot camps for children will no longer be necessary.

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