Saudi Arabia spearheads the way towards a healthier future

Sunil Thacker

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia has pointed the way towards a healthier future for the GCC region as a whole with new legislation requiring ingredient and calorie counts to be displayed, said Sunil Thacker, senior partner at STA law firm in UAE.

He said the laws introducing subsidized organic school meals and government incentives for institutions adopting and encouraging healthy eating plans can also help in the fight against diabetes and obesity.

Obesity and diabetes issues are major concerns across the region, and in Saudi Arabia restaurants and cafes were given until the end of 2018 to comply with instructions to display ingredients and calorie counts of their meals and beverages.

“That initiative is a significant step in encouraging other GCC countries to do the same,” said Thacker. “This requirement has been gaining worldwide support. It would not come as a surprise if other GCC countries like the UAE follow the example set by Saudi Arabia.

“Another positive initiative would be to deliver healthier and more organic food at subsidized rates within schools, universities, and office cafeterias. Incentives could also be offered to institutions that adopt and encourage healthy eating plans.”

“Schools and universities could also provide students with compulsory courses on nutrition and appoint a nutritional advisor to offer guidance to the young generation.”

Thacker believes it is inevitable that a new wave of measures to raise health standards of residents will be delivered as the UAE’s government continues its policy of legal reforms.

“The new laws implemented last year and the legislation due in 2019 are largely designed to take the country forward as thriving economic force, and the health of the people is a vital part of this process for any growing economy,” he said.

Thacker added: “Given the objectives of UAE Vision 2021, which sets the key themes for the country’s social and economic development, we could be seeing significant changes in the near future.”

While diabetes in the UAE dropped to 11.8 percent of the population in 2017 from 19.3 percent in 2013, the rate of obesity in UAE is double the global prevalence.

The scale of the UAE’s obesity problem was highlighted at a GCC conference staged in Dubai last year to address the issue. Experts at the conference said more than 1.9 billion adults and 381 million children around the world are known to be either overweight or obese. — SG