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d: June 07, 2009, 15:47
Media flayed for not doing enough about obesity
Dubai : Speakers at a seminar today at Dubai Press Club on the role of the media in fighting obesity among UAE children said the media must play a pioneering role in not only removing the many deep-rooted misconceptions about excessive weight being an indicator of good health, but also in sensitizing advertisers against spreading erroneous notions about weight gain in children.
The seminar, held jointly by Dubai Press Club, the Ministry of Health and the UNICEF, saw a number of speakers enlightening the audience on the various health hazards and psychological impact of obesity among the children in the country.
The event was organized as part of the ‘the Fat Truth’ campaign on the dangers of obesity among the children in the UAE, which is undertaken under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Haya Bint Al Husain, wife of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Moderated by Mohammed Abu Ubaid of Al Arabiya TV, the experts who spoke at the seminar included Zeina Habib Lietaert, Communication & Partnerships Specialist, UNICEF Gulf, Dr. Maryam Matar, General Manager, Community Development Authority, Lara Haider, Lawyer, The Rights Lawyers, Jamal Matar, Media Person, Dubai Media Foundation and Fatin Hamudi, Journalist and Writer on children’s issues, Emaraat Al Yaum.
Muhammed Abu Ubaid opened the discussion by throwing up a host of issues pertaining to the role of the media as well as the government and legislative authorities in sensitizing the society on obesity.
Dr. Maryam Matar drew attention to the socio-psychological consequences of obesity, pointing out that it could have considerable impact on the self confidence of the child, in addition to causing introverted behavior, excessive shyness and self-seclusion. “Many of our social attitudes are relevant to note in this regard, as many tend to give the kids the impression that a fat child is healthier. Obesity, as a matter of fact, is more prevalent in families where there is an exaggerated focus on feeding the kids, regardless of their nutritional requirements,” she added.
Dr. Matar said that a health survey among 15790 school children in the UAE in 2005 showed that around 12% of the children between the age bracket of 13-15 suffered from excessive weight, while 21% were quite vulnerable to obesity. She also spoke about way of fighting the menace and the role of the media in creating awareness in the society.
Zeina Habib said the UNICEF spares no effort in protecting the child across the globe, but pointed out that it should not be left solely to UNICEF and health authorities. “It is a responsibility that should be taken up by all arms of the society, be they in the public sector or private sector.
The media have a big role in sensitizing the society on the perils of obesity among the tiny ones. It is a mission too important to be left to some organizations and government bodies alone,” she stressed.
Advocate Lara Haider demanded a thorough scrutiny of the ads that target the kids in the media, particularly in terms of their impact on the safety and health of the children.
“In some countries, there are legal frameworks to regulate ads targeting families and kids, while much of the Arab world does not have any regulatory mechanism to deal with these issues. The regulatory framework in the Arab world is confined to issues of tobacco and alcohol, leaving the rest to the whims of private companies, resulting in the proliferation of social ills and health hazards such as obesity,” she added.
Jamal Matar opined that the visual media carried a higher responsibility in regard to the issue at hand, since they lack any concrete parameters to guard against social evils resulting from advertising content. “The visual media are always after quick profits, regardless of the consequences thereof.
Even the sphere of health journalism leaves much to be desired in terms of fulfilling its obligations toward the children. There is indeed a need for a regulatory mechanism in this area,” he said.
Fatin Hamudi lamented that journalism for children is very weak, besides the fact the media in general hardly rise to the expectations in regard to the requirements of family and kids. “ The media fail to convey the message to sections like teachers at schools, who may be in a position to bring about some change. The print media is particularly inefficient when it comes to the issues of the family and children.
In spite of many awards to encourage health journalism, it is still at a nascent stage and lacks precision and specialization, in addition to the fact that much of their content is verbatim translations from foreign languages and hence largely out of context,” he pointed out.
The seminar coincides with the UNICEF-led national campaign to create awareness on the growing menace of obesity among children in the UAE. The health ministry launched the campaign in association with the UNICEF on April 20 this year and will last until July 10. It is being driven under the slogan “Contribute to your life by participating in it.”
Several media organizations are actively involved in promoting the campaign and leading it to a success.
In line with the health-conscious mood of the event, the lunch served at the end of the program was from HealthFactory, which specializes in balanced healthy food.
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