Childhood nutrition in the UAE needs to be urgently addressed.
A 2014-2015 UAE study found that 40 per cent of children aged between three to 18 were overweight, and the recent 2023 report Nutrition Situation Analysis in the UAE shows that the nation continues to have significant issues with children being underweight, obese, micronutrient deficient, and suffering from nutrition-related chronic diseases.
These problems are mainly due to poor diets that include too many ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks, inactivity and a general lack of understanding amongst parents about what “healthy eating” entails.
In light of those worrying findings, Repton Abu Dhabi has decided to take its commitment to childhood wellbeing a step further and launch a school-based series of nutrition workshops – #ReptonTalksNutrition.
Open to parents of Repton students and the wider community, teacher and Wellness Coordinator Lauren Hughes says that the school is striving to make healthy eating more accessible for every family.
“Our initiative aligns with the UAE National Nutrition Strategy, 2022- 2023, a policy that seeks to provide children of all ages with sustainable nutritional systems and safe and supportive environments for nutrition,” she says.
“Providing education for the whole community is at the core of what we’re doing. The #ReptonTalksNutrition is the first event of its kind to be hosted in a school setting. Using a grassroots approach, backed by a panel of experts and thought leaders, we are aiming to change the landscape of pediatric nutrition and make it normal to find healthy and nourishing foods on a child’s plate, rather than processed and artificial food products.”
Education is key
Marie Al Nasrawi, Head Teacher of the Rose Campus at Repton Abu Dhabi and a qualified nutritional therapist, believes that many parents are unaware of how poor nutrition can damage their child’s health and development.
“We need to educate our parents. They play a powerful role in influencing the eating habits of their children and the best thing they can do is be positive role models and make healthy choices themselves,” says Al Nasrawi.
“Some of our top tips for parents are to try and have regular family meals, serve a variety of healthy and tasty foods, and to involve children in shopping and cooking.”
Al Nasrawi recommends that parents prioritize cooking with fruits and vegetables, lean meats and healthy proteins such as fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, lentils and beans.
She notes that choosing whole grain breads and cereals is a great way of adding extra fibre, and advises that parents limit fast food, sugary drinks and low-nutrient snacks, but don’t ban them completely. This way children won’t feel like they are being deprived.
Hughes adds that that their campaigns focuses on the delicious and enticing foods that families should be eating, rather than what items should be banned.
“So much mainstream chat surrounding nutrition is very much still focused on diet culture,” she notes.
“Instead, we want to look at what we can add to our plates to make each meal that bit more colourful and nutrient dense. It’s not about quick fixes or fads. It’s about making sustainable lifestyle choices.”
Encouraging healthy habits
According to a recent UNICEF report, poor nutrition amongst children can hamper brain development and learning, and lead to low immunity levels and an increased risk of contracting infections.
Therefore, Repton Abu Dhabi makes great efforts to promote healthy eating in every year group, right from when children first join them at just three years old.
“It is crucial that we help children adopt healthy habits from a young age. Early healthy habits have been proven to boost academic performance, and make it more likely that children will continue to make healthy choices throughout their lives, and maintain a healthy relationship with food into adulthood,” says Al Nasrawi.
Other healthy eating initiatives at the school include encouraging students to try new foods through the ‘Fruit and Vegetable of the Week’ campaign, and special ‘healthy lunches’ with the Headteacher and Assistant Head that reward students for their healthy eating habits.
Healthy food swap and lunch ideas are included in the school newsletter, while every child’s height, weight, activity levels and diet are carefully monitored throughout their school years.
“Physical activity goes hand-in-hand with healthy food choices, and we provide a range of extra-curricular sports and activities,” continues Al Nasrawi.
“Our Repton Academies offer football, basketball and tennis, and we also run classes in ballet, karate, swimming, multi-sports, ball skills, netball, volleyball, athletics and much more.”
Starting the conversation around childhood nutrition
Running from Thursday, March 2 to March 20, #ReptonTalksNutrition will focus on topics as varied as the pillars of good childhood nutrition, gut health, oral health and how nutrition affects academic performance.
Open to children and parents, the sessions will include cooking demonstrations, tasting opportunities, giveaways and talks from expert speakers, including pediatricians, dentists, biochemists and physicians.
Registration is free via the sign-up form here.
Harriet Shephard is an Abu Dhabi-based copywriter and freelance journalist with a particular focus on fitness, travel and lifestyle, which, along with good food, also happen to be her main passions when she's not typing away at her laptop.