Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Health ministry reveals plans to curb youth health issues

16 March 2011, The Gulf Today

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has announced the results of the UAE Global School Health Survey 2010 on Tuesday, revealing a range of challenges, which are affecting the health of the future generation.
The survey, which was conducted in the UAE with the support of the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, UNESCO, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the International AIDS Prevention Union, involved 2,581 students in the age group of 13 to 15 years from 52 government and private schools across the UAE.
It was carried out to study accurate information on their behaviour, activities and cultural disparities that may be a factor in triggering non-communicable diseases among young people, said a top health official. 

Authorities, based on the results of the scientific research, are currently planning to develop comprehensive prevention programmes and activities targeting the youth in the country, so as to reduce the burden of morbidity, disability and early death cases among them.
The study revealed that on a daily basis, only 26.2 per cent of the students eat fruits and 17.2 per cent vegetables daily. It also pointed out that  25.6 per cent of all students often drank soft drinks such as Coke and Pepsi and about 21 per cent of the respondents regularly eat fast food from Burger King and McDonalds and Pizza Hut and KFC outlets.
Nearly 78.9 per cent of the students said they had smoked cigarettes during the past thirty days, and they started the habit for the first time at the age of 14 years. About 10.7 per cent of the students had smoked cigarettes in a day during the past thirty days.
The survey also found that 12.3 per cent of the total students, male (18.5%) and females (7.7%), have used shisha and other forms of tobacco during the past thirty days.
Dr Mahmoud Fikri, executive director for Health Policies at the MoH, said the survey provided data on the prevalence of a range of unhealthy behaviors as well as the protective measures needed to tackle the causes of fatal diseases among the young people and adults.
“The results will significantly contribute to the development of integrated health strategies to save the future generation from severe health risks. The survey also will exchange information and expertise with regional and global health bodies and organisations,” he added.
“The research monitored sedentary lifestyle, higher prevalence of smoking or tobacco use among the school children, mental health and deep socio-cultural disparities,” Dr Fikri pointed out.
“During the survey, students from 26 government schools and 26 private schools were given a questionnaire on their preferences, eating habits, violence they encountered, physical fights and injuries, physical assaults they faced, mental problems, use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and their knowledge about HIV/AIDS,” he elaborated.
The inaugural global schools health survey conducted in 2005 had invited the authority’s attention to the alarming challenges resulting from careless behaviour of the young generation in the UAE.
According to him, the MoH is identifying priorities in developing prevention programmes and directing resources for school health services. “Trends and prevalence of health behaviors and protective factors in different countries will be identified to assess school health programmes.”
Nearly half of the students, at 46.7 per cent, said they received lessons during the school year about the benefits of healthy nutrition. About 15 per cent of the students were found to be obese according to the survey, while 35 per cent of them are overweight.
On the mental health of the students, they survey also revealed that 17.1 per cent felt lonely often during the past twelve months, while 38.4 per cent of them felt grief and loss of hope, almost daily for two consecutive weeks. Only 19.2 per cent of the students had received lessons on how to deal with stress.
Mayada Wahsh, programme director of UNICEF in the Gulf region, said, “The questionnaire was developed by experts in more than 15 countries around the world, in collaboration with the WHO, CDC and other international organisations over the past 15 months.”
“The results will be reviewed to draft advanced strategic and practical steps to save the youth from the fatal diseases caused by negative behaviours,” she added.
“Non-infectious diseases were the leading cause for 60 per cent of deaths in the world every year, and 47 per cent of the burden of diseases globally. There are specific risk factors that cause these rates of mortality,” elaborated Wahsh.