Back to school in UAE: 75% of students have vitamin D deficiency, eye problems, say hospitals

Diagnosis based on lab results of children who underwent free check-ups

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Ashwani Kumar

Published: Fri 26 Aug 2022, 5:59 PM

Some UAE hospitals, including those offering free health check-ups ahead of the school reopening, have reported 70 to 75 per cent students being deficient in vitamin D and having vision-related problems. A good few have gained weight too.

Based on the lab results of 50 students who came for free check-ups in the past few days, Dr Dhanya P. Menon, specialist, pathologist, Abu Dhabi’s Phoenix Hospital, noted that three-fourth of the students didn’t have enough vitamin D in their bodies on account of minimal exposure to the sun.

“Vitamin D level above 30 ng/ml is considered acceptable. Anything between 20 ng/ml to 30 ng/ml is inadequate. And less than 20 ng/ml is deficient. Insufficient levels were expected as children weren’t going out during summer and leading a sedentary lifestyle but we found most of them having very low levels of vitamin D. More than 75 per cent of children were found to be deficient in vitamin D,” Dr Dhanya told Khaleej Times.

Echoing similar views, Dr Babitha Sudarsanan, specialist paediatrics, LLH Hospital, Musaffah, said that because of scorching summer heat, children stayed indoors and didn’t get the sunshine vitamin. “Vitamin D deficiency is common among children during summer season.”

According to official data, the mercury breached 50 degrees Celsius a couple of times this summer and has remained higher than 40 degrees for most days across the country. Dr Babitha pointed out an increase in cases of respiratory diseases because of hot and dusty weather.

“Rise in cases of respiratory infections is more than previous years. Moreover, viral fever is seen nowadays. These are the main problems that we have been seeing during the ‘Back to School’ free health check-up,” Dr Babitha said.

Fatigue, bone deformity, pain in back, muscle and joints, cramps, weakness, mood changes, depression are some of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. Apart from exposure to sunlight, children should eat plant and animal-based foods like oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, red meat, egg yolks, cod liver, fortified milk and cereals.

20-20-20 rule to protect eyes

Dr Ajay Sapra, specialist in ophthalmology in Ahalia Hospital, Mussafah, underlined that the number of cases of refractive error – a common eye disorder, has increased leading to children needing glasses.

“During consultations, we are observing that digital eye strain also known as computer vision syndrome is becoming very common among children mainly because of excess use of gadgets like laptops, mobile phones and TV. Refractive errors have increased with children suffering from myopia (nearsightedness). Such cases have surged a lot. It’s up to 7 out of 10 children in OPD (outpatient department) reaching up to 70 per cent. They will need glasses or contact lenses to correct their refractive error. The glasses have anti-reflective coating, which will prevent digital eye strain.”

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Dr Sapra recommended 20-20-20 rule to reduce eye strain among children and adults.

“After using the digital screen for 20 minutes, you should take a break for 20 seconds and look at a distance of about 20 feet away,” Dr Sapra noted that people can also blink 20 times, which will help tear spread across the eye and prevent dryness.

Weight gain remains a problem

Doctors have noted a common pattern of up to 40 per cent children being overweight, which they pointed out as not alarming but a cause of concern.

Dr Meenakshi Sesama, specialist paediatrics, Aster Clinic, Al Barsha, Dubai, said the most notable problems seen among children are weight gain, vision and deficiency of certain vitamins.

“Owing to the pandemic, children spend their lives within homes. The only leisure was playing on their mobile phones, play station, watching television, and other indoor games. Even during the holidays, the temperature was so high that children could not play outside. So, there has been a considerable reduction in physical activity and increased screen time. This could be a possible explanation for weight gain and vision problems.”

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Dr Meenakshi noted that out of 10 children visiting the clinic, 3 to 4 were found to be overweight.

“Bad eating habits are a problem. Parents must take this seriously and ensure that the children maintain a healthy weight. With the temperature getting better, parents should encourage children to engage in physical activities and ensure that they eat and drink healthy foods. Cutting down on outside food and carbonated drinks are crucial in fighting weight gain in children.”

Dr Meenakshi said that there are certain behavioural issues seen among children like hyperactivity, poor socialising skills, tantrums, and inadequate sleep, which are the other concerns that need to be addressed at the earliest to prevent long-term psychosocial impairment.

Offering general health tips to parents, Dr Babitha added: “Promote general health and wellbeing of children. Encourage them to have a healthy lifestyle and diet, and do regular physical activities even if indoors. Take adequate precaution to avoid Covid-19 and follow guidelines like wearing masks and maintain social distancing. Also, teach them to follow proper respiratory hygiene and general hygienic measures.”


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