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UAE children too inactive, research indicates

Dubai: Children in the UAE seem to have all but deserted physical activity, an expert told the Arab Health conference in Dubai on Tuesday.

Analysis of research done between 1998 and 2014 indicates a poor state of physical activity for children in the UAE, said Tom Loney, associate professor of public health and epidemiology at the college of medicine at Mohammad Bin Rashid School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dubai.

Loney was speaking during a public health session during the Arab Health conference.

The findings are included in the UAE Report Card, published in 2016, of the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance. They are based on “representative data” of all seven emirates, compiled from various sources over the years.

The report awarded letter grades against nine indicators, such as how much and how often children play and are physically active at school, home and with peers.

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In terms of ‘Overall Physical Activity’, the grade was D- to F-, meaning less than 20 per cent of children participate in physical activity for an hour daily.

Loney, who was the chief scientific officer for the international study’s UAE version, said one reason for being physically inactive was the heavy use of technology. Another reason was the fact that school buses here pick and drop students right outside their residence, meaning they don’t walk or cycle to the bus stop, let alone to the school.

He also said there was a lack of “culturally appropriate and engaging” options for physical activity, especially for Emirati girls.

Despite the lacklustre report card, Loney said the “future is brighter”, thanks in part to government efforts to promote an active lifestyle. He said the “UAE is not alone in this problem [of inactivity]”, with many other countries suffering for similar reasons.

The highest grade in the UAE Report Card was B+, for ‘Government Strategies & Investments’. It said the UAE government has “invested significant funds and resources into programmes to increase physical activity in both children and adults”.