Kids need at least an hour of exercise a day to keep their hearts healthy
Children should be active for at least one hour every day, and have no more than two hours of sedentary time during the same time period, if they are to be protected from developing heart disease later in life, according to medical and exercise experts.
The advice comes ahead of World Heart Day on September 27, which aims to raise global awareness that reducing childhood obesity is essential to reducing the risk of heart disease in adulthood.
The UAE has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world with around 22 percent of children classed as overweight and 14 percent as obese, according to the most recent international data.
A further study carried out by local researchers and published in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal shows that 48.8 percent of pupils attending private secondary schools in Dubai have a "poor level of sporting practice". A total of 21.2 percent do "no sport" at all.
Dr Alya Ahmed, official UAE spokesperson for the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP, and paediatrician at The City Hospital in Dubai, urged parents to encourage their children to take regular exercise and to limit the amount of time they spend watching TV and playing video games.
"Evidence-based recommendations from AAP say kids should do one hour of activity every day or most days. This covers any type of sports including running, walking, swimming, and even free play for younger children," she said.
"The recommendation is part of the AAP's 5.2.1 rule for healthy children - it stands for five pieces of fruit and vegetables, two hours of sedentary or screen time, and one hour of activity per day."
"In the UAE we are still at the awareness stage with childhood obesity, people do not see it as a disease yet. But it is, and it is the responsibility of parents, doctors and teachers to act to prevent children from becoming overweight by encouraging them to exercise and eat healthily," Dr Ahmed added.
Access to sporting facilities for youngsters in Dubai is set to receive a boost with the opening of the Academies Campus at Dubai Sports City, which is scheduled to be fully operational by January 2010.
The campus will offer up to 2,300 children per week the chance to take part in coaching for football, rugby, cricket, swimming and hockey, as well as access to a running track and a high-performance centre.
Exercise expert Tommy Wingrove, head coach at Manchester United Soccer Schools, Dubai, based in Dubai Sports City, said the facilities offered children across the UAE an unprecedented opportunity to take part in sports.
"Children across the UAE need to be see exercise as a normal part of their daily lives if we are to see a reduction in the alarming rates of childhood obesity, and cut rates of heart disease in the future" he said.