DUBAI — Fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh juice, cheese and milk will soon replace junk food in school canteens, while pizzas and burgers will also come under the scanner beginning this September.
In an attempt to combat rising obesity and diabetic levels among school children, the Ministry of Education (MoE) plans to completely ban junk food in all public and private schools in the UAE and will set new health standards in schools from the next academic year.
Ahmad Abdul-Rahman, director of Student Activities from the Department of Sport and Health Programmes in the Ministry of Education and Youth, told Khaleej Times that fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh juice, cheese and milk would replace fatty and fast foods. He added that pizzas and burgers served in schools would be monitored on how they were being cooked and the kind of oil and meat being used.
Five Al Ghad Schools, that are public schools, will be monitored closely as part of the ministry’s pilot programme though the new standards will apply for all schools. Private schools will also be given guidelines, which would be implemented in coordination with education councils.
Ahmad Abdul-Rahman said, ‘We are planning a complete ban on junk food now and will follow up closely with the five Al Ghad Schools as part of the pilot project. The standards will be set for all schools in the UAE, including guidelines for private schools to follow.’
The director said a study was also being conducted to gauge the nutrition levels required by students of different age groups. ‘The standards will be based on this so we can specify the nutrition needs of children of different age groups,’ he said, adding that parents of public school children were being asked about the kind of meals they wanted for their children and the pricing that would be apt for the meals served.
The initiative would be implemented with the support of school administrations, teachers and parents. Officials observed that obesity levels were higher among children in private schools than those in government schools. A recent Global School Health Survey conducted among 200 children from Grades VII to X, aged between 13 and 15 years, revealed that 33.6 per cent of them were either overweight or were at the risk of becoming overweight.