Craze for junk food stronger than ever

DUBAI — While the variety of cuisines available in Dubai is undeniable, appeasing even the fussiest food nut, the appeal of junk food remains stronger than ever and experts worry that parents too frequently give in to the convenience and low price of this unhealthy option.

By Reshmi Nair

Published: Sun 20 May 2007, 8:51 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:26 AM

Dr Suresh Nair of Dubai Hospital, who specialises in Cardiac Rehabilitation, speculates that parents over-estimate the time and effort it takes to cook meals at home.

"Preparing meals at home can be quick and simple. Parents should realise that this effort on their part provides a role model for their kids and ensures that their food is free from unhealthy fats and preservatives."

"In terms of busy parents choosing what kind of food to buy, the unfortunate reality is that healthier food, though cheaper to produce, is usually more costly and thus accessible to only those from a certain income bracket."

Interestingly, the widespread attraction to fast food restaurants in Dubai seems to transcend socio-economic barriers, and the clientele range from teenagers to businessmen, a dichotomy of the young and old, poor and rich.

Alarmingly, these numbers include a significant amount of parents with very young children.

"I am well aware of that junk food is unhealthy, but we don't eat it on a regular basis. My daughter loves French fries and really looks forward to coming here due to the play area, so I consider this more ofan occasional treat," said a parent dining at a fast food joint with her five-year-old daughter.

Many other parents echoed her sentiment, saying that they understood the negative impact of junk food and did not buy it on a regular basis. Only one parent mentioned fast food as cheaper option.

"I work in Dubai and live in Sharjah. I really don't have time to wait too long for food. I usually use the drive-through to pick up a full meal for my wife and three kids. It's cheap and they love it, so I do it around three or four times a week," said Alex, a sales assistant.

When asked why parents did not look to healthier "treats" for their children, they asserted that their children were attracted to junk food due to the high amount of advertising, kid-friendly environment and the fact that many expatriate children recognise some of the well-known chains, and felt comfortable while ordering items on the menu.

Essentially, concludes Dr Nair, a balanced diet should be a parent's priority and his qualms about junk food are not how kids eat it, but the fact that kids in Dubai are leading an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

"The problem with junk food is that it's calorie dense. Just one burger could provide a child with 1/4 of their recommended calorie intake per day. In order to strike a balance, energy intake needs to match energy output, as an energy oversupply leads to obesity. Therefore, the most effective solution may not be to avoid junk food all together, but to increase physical activity to burn off those calories. I cannot stress enough how exercise needs to be an essential part of life."

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