Schools Should Be Accountable For Students’ Health: Experts

Education authorities should make registering the students’ body mass index (BMI) as requirement in renewing licences of schools, experts suggested at a health conference in the Capital.

Speaking at the sixth annual InnovHealth on Sunday, Mark Adams, CEO of Gulf Healthcare, added that students’ BMI should also be a part of the teachers’ key performance indicators (KPIs) in order to make them accountable not only on the children’s scholastic progress but also on their health.

Adams also proposed that schools with healthy students should be recognised by the government through an award for their role in producing a healthy young population.  “This will encourage parents to enrol their children in that school,” Adams pointed out.

Noting the growing prevalence of diabetes on young people, Adams said “aggressive communication” needs to be started in order to curb this “herculean problem.” According to the studies carried out by the Ministry of Health (MoH) on school children in 2005, 12.1 per cent of students are found to be obese and 21.5 per cent are overweight. In 2010, similar studies revealed that 15.5 per cent are obese while 39.2 per cent are overweight, with BMIs exceeding 30.

“Despite all the efforts in tackling this issue, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes is increasing,” remarked Dr Salah Al Badawi, Director of Diabetes Control Programme at the MoH.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) 2010 figures showed that 18.7 per cent of the UAE’s adult population (between 20-79 years) have diabetes mellitus, the highest in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

By educating the youngsters about diabetes, health professionals hope that the prevalence and burden of the disease will eventually decrease in future.  In addition to education, the primary healthcare could also be effectively developed to manage diabetes in the country. Primary health physicians or family doctors could play a major role in curbing diabetes by speaking to the family about prevention and treatment from the early stages of the disease.

“Primary healthcare plays an important part in prevention as 80 per cent of the population go to health centres,” said Dr Al Badawi.  However, the role of primary healthcare here is not recognised for that purpose as patients see them only to get referral to other hospitals, Dr Khaled Al Jabari, consultant and chief endocrinologist at Mafraq Hospital, pointed out.

“Prevention has to start from home, school and at the workplace,” stated John Nickens, CEO of Mafraq Hospital.  As majority of the population are employed, he suggested that employers take a proactive role in improving the health of its workforce through annual checks, as part of its corporate social responsibility. “Employers have the responsibility to look after the health of its employees and get the rewards in the long term,” Nickens said.

According to him, investments have to be made on the employees’ health to “incentivise” them to have a good lifestyle, which in effect will result in an efficient and healthy workforce. “We have to focus on what we can do, not on what we can’t do,” he stressed.

The two-day summit was officially opened by Dr Amin Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary for Medical Practices and Licenses at the ministry. By Olivia Olarte, Khaleej Times

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