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Now kids on crash diets.

ABU DHABI: Parents obsessed with fitness are subjecting children as young as seven and eight to extreme crash diets, XPRESS has learnt.

While childhood obesity has become one of the biggest concerns in the UAE, with nearly a third of all schoolchildren in Abu Dhabi being obese or overweight, doctors and nutritionists cautioned parents against putting young children on indiscriminate diets as they could adversely affect their growth and behaviour.

According to the latest statistics from Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Hd), 30 per cent of six- to 18-year-olds in the emirate are either obese or overweight. Another study has established nearly 10 per cent of children under the age of five are anaemic. But experts said crash diets are not the solution to the problem.

Sakina Mustansir, clinical dietician at Prime Medical Centre, said: "In most cases that I have seen, parents just cut down their children's food intake. I have also come across some parents who put their children on a no-carbs diet - and that can be dangerous."

Nero-developmental paediatrician Dr Rajeshree Singhania said: "These days parents are very conscious about their kids' weight. There is a lot of social pressure and children as young as eight and nine want to be slimmer and look like celebrities."

The experts said restricting children from eating could actually boomerang and have adverse effects on their health and behaviour.

But parents believe they know better.


Cindy, an Indian mother of eight-year-old, said she does not let her daughter eat chocolates or any extra sugar. She has even cut down on her daughter's consumption of bread and rice.

"It is common knowledge that carbs make you put on weight. So when my daughter started gaining weight, I decided to act. I now give her only one chapati (Indian bread) instead of three. I also don't allow her to eat sweets or fried foods."

Sandhya is equally strict. "It is tough to make my 10-year-old daughter stick to a diet, but instilling discipline from a young age is important. By not eating chocolates and too much dairy and carbohydrate products, I feel she is eating far healthier than others her age. I am sure she will be very thankful when she grows up."

Doctors said while children should be taught to eat right, parents cannot subject them to random diets that adults follow. "Children who are forced to stop foods they like would begin to eat them on the sly. They would end up eating much more as they feel deprived. There's also the risk of them developing low self-esteem and other psychological problems," warned Dr Singhania. "You cannot expect your children to eat healthy when your cupboard is stocked with cookies and other junk food or if you are packing flavoured yogurts and nuggets for lunch."

The key lies in educating a child to eat healthy and, equally important, stay physically active.

"A carefully planned diet programme which keeps multiple factors in mind is important. We need to teach children the importance of eating healthy and exercising," said Dr Chacko George from RAK Hospital.

"Parents must understand that physical activity needs to be prioritised for children. They must undertake a physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day. This should be combined with a healthy approach to eating, but not a crash diet," said Mustansir.

"Healthy eating should be an overall approach followed by the family, and not just restricted to a single family member."

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Publication:XPRESS (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Jul 31, 2014
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