Poor food literacy remains a significant obstacle to promoting healthier eating habits among the UAE public, with many individuals lacking even basic knowledge about calories and nutrition. According to a recent poll conducted by the University of Sharjah over the span of two years, only one-third of 1,279 adults surveyed had a clear understanding of the recommended daily energy intake, which is approximately 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 calories for men[^1^].
In comparison, a study in the United States found that 54 percent of people possessed sufficient knowledge about calories to make informed choices when dining out[^1^]. Although voluntary menu labeling of calories was introduced across the UAE in 2020, experts argue that there are still significant knowledge gaps among the general population when it comes to making healthier food choices for managing health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension[^1^].
Dr. Leila Ismail, an associate professor at the University of Sharjah’s Department of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, suggests that making calorie information mandatory on menus could potentially reduce obesity rates in the UAE. However, efforts to improve food literacy should go beyond mandatory labeling and focus on raising awareness and providing comprehensive education about nutrition[^1^].
One particular challenge highlighted by the study was the lack of calorie literacy among young people, with 54 percent of participants under the age of 30 struggling to understand the concept of calories[^1^]. To address these knowledge gaps, there is a need for innovative strategies such as implementing a traffic light system similar to the one introduced in the UK in 2013[^1^]. This system uses color-coded stickers to indicate the fat, sugar, salt, and calorie content of food, providing users with an easily understandable visual reference[^1^].
Q: What is food literacy?
A: Food literacy refers to a person’s knowledge and understanding of nutrition, including concepts such as calories, macronutrients, and dietary recommendations.
Q: Why is food literacy important?
A: Food literacy is essential for making informed and healthier food choices. It helps individuals understand the nutritional content of the food they consume and supports the management of health conditions.
Q: How can food literacy be improved?
A: Food literacy can be enhanced through comprehensive education and awareness campaigns about nutrition, implementing clear and informative food labeling systems, and promoting healthy eating habits from an early age.
Q: What is a traffic light system for food labeling?
A: A traffic light system is a food labeling scheme that uses color-coded stickers, such as red, yellow, and green, to indicate the nutritional content of food. It helps consumers quickly assess the level of fat, sugar, salt, and calories in a product.
Q: What are the goals of the UAE’s National Nutrition Strategy?
A: The UAE’s National Nutrition Strategy aims to develop sustainable nutritional systems, promote healthy diets, and provide supportive environments for nutrition across all age groups. It also focuses on comprehensive coverage of basic nutrition measures and the development of flexible and sustainable food systems.