Cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes are common afflictions among older people all over the world. But in the UAE, these metabolic diseases are now affecting many young children because of the lack of adequate physical activity.
Nearly 78 per cent of UAE children lack the amount and type of physical activity that would protect them from cardiovascular disease and keep them healthy, according to a study conducted by the World Health Organisation on children aged 13 to 15.
“This result can be generalised to children in other age groups, especially as 13- to 15-year-olds are typically the most active age group. What this means is that the physical health of UAE children is deteriorating rapidly, and it will worsen further if immediate action is not taken,” Peer Mohammad Mohammad Ali, a senior physiotherapist and team leader of cardiac and diabetic rehabilitation at Al Ain Hospital told Gulf News.
Too much screen time
Ali said that children and teenagers in the UAE eat excessive junk food, and spent at least three hours per day watching television or using a computer. In addition, children do not engage in enough sports or spend much time helping with household chores.
“Urbanisation has brought about these health risks for UAE children. Limited access to health and fitness facilities and negative examples from parents and other role models also make matters worse,” Ali said.
Dr Johannes du Plessis, cardiology consultant at the Shaikh Khalifa Medical City said that the most serious child health risks caused by insufficient physical activity were diabetes, and obesity.
“These will inevitably lead to coronary heart disease, hypertension and strokes, as well as a myriad of other complications like deteriorating eye sight and renal disease,” du Plessis said.
He added that joint problems due to the excessive weight could also occur.
Both Ali and du Plessis agree that children need to reduce fast food intake and engage in at least an hour of intense to moderate aerobic exercise daily.
Ali also said that collaborative efforts on the part of parents, schools and the community are needed to reverse the heath risks brought about by insufficient physical activity.
When contacted, parents in the UAE said they tried to provide sufficient opportunities for children to engage in physical activities, but unanimously agreed that a variety of reasons prevented their children from getting enough exercise.