Subsidised organic school meals a key move to put UAE on healthier track, says lawyer

New Saudi law on ingredient, calorie counts shows the way for other GCC countries in fight against diabetes, obesity – STA’s Sunil Thacker

Laws introducing subsidised organic school meals and ingredient and calorie counts displayed in restaurants, cafes and all other eateries can help give the UAE a healthy future, a top lawyer says.

While important steps have been taken to reduce diabetes in recent years, obesity remains a major threat, with one in every three schoolchildren either overweight or obese.

Sunil Thacker, senior partner at STA Law Firm, believes it is inevitable that a new wave of measures to raise health standards of residents will be delivered as the government continues its policy of legal reforms.

“The new laws implemented last year and the legislation due in 2019 are largely designed to take the country forward as thriving economic force, and the health of the people is a vital part of this process for any growing economy,” he said.

“Although there has been considerable improvement in the health of residents in recent years, there is still a long way to go for the UAE to attain optimal health status on a global level.”

While diabetes in the UAE dropped to 11.8 per cent of the population in 2017 from 19.3 per cent in 2013, the rate of obesity in UAE schoolchildren is double the global prevalence.

Obesity and diabetes issues are major concerns across the region, and in Saudi Arabia, restaurants and cafes were given until the end of 2018 to comply with instructions to display ingredients and calorie counts of their meals and beverages.

“That initiative was a significant step in encouraging other GCC countries to do the same,” said Thacker. “This requirement has been gaining worldwide support. It would not come as a surprise if other GCC countries like the UAE follow the example set by Saudi Arabia.

“Another positive initiative would be to deliver healthier and more organic food at subsidized rates within UAE schools, universities, and office cafeterias. Incentives could also be offered to institutions that adopt and encourage healthy eating plans.

“Schools and universities could also provide students with compulsory courses on nutrition and appoint a nutritional advisor to offer guidance to the young generation.

“Given the objectives of UAE Vision 2021, which sets the key themes for the country’s social and economic development, we could be seeing significant changes in the near future.”

The scale of the UAE’s obesity problem was highlighted at a GCC conference staged in Dubai last year to address the issue. Experts at the conference said more than 1.9 billion adults and 381 million children around the world are known to be either overweight or obese. In the UAE, one in every three schoolchildren was either overweight or obese, double the global prevalence.

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