More advanced healthy food policies are a must to achieve sustainable development goals in the Eastern Mediterranean region, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO also urged Eastern Mediterranean countries to implement the ‘United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition’ programme and identify the best solutions and practices to address the problem of obesity.
The ‘My Health 7th Regional Conference’, organised by the WHO and the health promotion department of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, was attended by Dr Ahmed Selim Al Mandhari, regional director of the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean; Iman Rashid Saif, director of the health promotion department at the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in Sharjah; Dr Hussain Al Rand, assistant undersecretary for health centres and clinics at the Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap); and Dr Ayoub Al Jawaldeh, regional nutrition adviser at the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean; as well as a number of officials and a large number of representatives of both public and private health authorities from the UAE.
Dr Al Mandhari pointed out that the recent figures on obesity have prompted various countries in the region to implement several national plans and strategies to reduce childhood obesity through cross-sectoral policies. He added that some of the most prominent policies include the policy of restricting marketing practices used to market unhealthy foods to children, the policy of integrating healthy foods into foods served in schools and the policy of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages.
Rashid Saif stated that the UAE has worked for years to face obesity as part of a comprehensive national framework and the national agenda of the UAE Vision 2021 to reduce rates of obesity among children aged 5-17 years. She remarked that humans are the most precious wealth and the health of its children is Sharjah’s top priority. She extended an invitation to all parties concerned to work together in finding solutions that threaten both children and youth.
Dr Al Rand stressed that obesity levels are rising at an alarming rate in the UAE, which has prompted the country to take initiative in reducing obesity by 12 per cent among children by 2021.
Dr Al Jawaldeh pointed out that 2.5 million people in the Eastern Mediterranean region are dying from non-communicable diseases each year, which is equal to 62 per cent of all deaths in the region. “More than half of the region’s adult women (51 per cent) and more than two in five men (43.8 per cent) were overweight or obese in 2014. The rates of children that were overweight or obese were high – higher than the global average of seven per cent – and in some countries, more than 15 per cent of children are affected.”