Foods high in fat, salt and sugar will no longer be served in Qatar’s government-funded independent schools, an education ministry official has said.
Banned foods include chocolate, chips, fried foods, processed meats and sugary drinks, said Hamad al Rumaihi, Chief of Canteens at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
In a statement, he added that cakes and biscuits will now only be served once a week instead of twice. And brown and wholegrain bread will now be offered to students for the first time.
The changes were made following “intensive meetings” at the ministry to decide on new nutritional guidelines for schools, the statement said.
They are being implemented across Qatar’s 191 public independent schools, where more than 100,000 students are enrolled.
The ministry’s focus on healthy eating in schools comes as the government continues to urge residents to improve their eating habits and exercise more.
Some 42.3 percent of adults in Qatar are obese – the highest rate in the Gulf (which has an average of 36.7 percent).
And worryingly, an increasing number of children in Qatar are also obese, putting them at risk of a host of diseases, including diabetes.
Figures from 2014 show that one-third (33.5 percent) of all boys under 20 years old in Qatar are classified as overweight or obese. That’s the highest figure in the MENA region.
In the past, experts have suggested that Qatar’s childhood obesity epidemic could lead to many children dying years before their parents.
These same experts said that providing healthy school lunches could make a big difference to children’s health.
During a visit to Qatar two years ago, Julian Hamilton-Shield, professor of Diabetes and Endocrinology at the University of Bristol in the UK, told Doha News that he felt hot meals at school, as opposed to packed lunches, were a good way of tackling the problem:
“Having a school dinner which is healthy – looked at by a dietitian – is a better way of doing it,” he told us.
“Packed lunches are something that people do quickly – adding crisps and chocolate bars. If you spent an hour making it, you’d probably be fine, but most don’t have the time.”
However, some parents in Qatar are not given an option, as many of the country’s private schools do not offer cooked school lunches for their students.