BEIRUT: National guidelines for what Lebanese adults should be eating in order to stay healthy are currently being studied by the ministries of health and education alongside a team of nutritionists from Lebanese universities. The guidelines, currently in draft stage, follow a three-year study launched by the Associated Research Unit (ARU) on Undernutrition and Obesity, which revealed that the level of obesity among children and adults has almost doubled in the last 15 years.
About one in six children younger than 10 and one in four adults in Lebanon are now obese. One in eight adolescents are considered obese, according to the data, which was collected in 2009 by a team of nutritionists from the American University of Beirut, Saint Joseph University and the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik.
In 1997, the year of the previous study of its kind, only one in 10 children under 10 were obese, and one in five adults. The rate of obesity among adolescents has doubled, from only one in 18 in 1997.
The draft document provides a ‘food guide cedar tree,’ a local take on the traditional food pyramid, with cereals at the bottom and fats and oils – to be eaten sparingly – at the top. Recommendations, which were targeted to reflect Lebanese culture, include eating two servings of fish a week, and regularly consuming legume-based dishes.
The study on obesity showed a strong correlation between obesity and a “Western diet,” including fast food, regular soda drinks, and mayonnaise, and a high body mass index.
Once finalized, the recommendations will be adopted by the government as the guidelines for healthy eating for all Lebanese adults.
The ARU, in conjunction with the government, has also implemented a nutritional education program in 20 state schools across the country, to be expanded further, and similar healthy eating guidelines for children are expected to follow.
At the seminar held Friday to release the research conducted by the ARU, set up by the National Center for Scientific Research, Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said his ministry would use the study’s findings to build its national health strategy.
“We need to work on public awareness about nutrition in order to prevent diseases, especially since food and eating is a huge part of our culture,” said Khalil. “We have to develop a clear national strategy for nutrition that will set roles for the ministries of education, health and information.”
Dr. Walid Ammar, the director-general at the Ministry of Health, who spoke during the seminar, said the ministry is currently looking into imposing higher taxes on certain unhealthy foods, including butter and salt.
ARU’s recommendations were based on guidelines from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization (WHO), which is expected to play a role in its implementation.
Speaking at the seminar, WHO representative Dr. Sameen Siddiqi praised the strong evidence-based nature of the research, and said the country could do more to combat the causes of obesity.
The ARU hopes that the finalized set of guidelines will be rolled out by the end of 2012.