How to get kids to eat healthier is one of the country’s biggest challenges – but one mother could have the answer. Shishira Sreenivas meets her
Muna Zayed is quite a formidable woman. A mother of four and science teacher, she already has her hands full with numerous demands on her time. But that hasn’t stopped her from setting her sights on a goal of national importance – to get Oman’s children to kick their junk food habits and start eating healthily.
With kids as young as ten being classed as obese in the Sultanate and heart attack victims becoming younger amid soaring levels of cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure, it’s quite a task.
Muna’s idea of setting up an institute to tackle the issue may well be just what is needed. It certainly caught the eye of judges in a competition held for women across the GCC countries to come up with unique philanthropic ideas that aim to change lives. Her concept has been chosen as one of the nine shortlisted out of 340 entries – and the only one to be selected from Oman.
“I didn’t realise that I would be one of them (shortlisted entrants). Even when they called me, I was so surprised because it had been a dream that I hadn’t been able to make come true,” says Muna.
“I believe that change can start from an idea, so I submitted mine, which is to have a private institute for healthy food.”
Since then, Muna has been shaping and refining her idea ready for a final presentation in front of three selected judges. At stake is a cash prize of RO10,000 for the winner and a chance to help turn their dream into reality.
Among the other entries were soup kitchens, toy libraries, book stations and art on wheels.
Muna, a self-confessed Facebook addict and teacher at Al-Ibdaa International School in Muscat, has been working on the idea of establishing an institute to spread awareness of healthy eating for almost five years.
“Through the institute, I want to teach kids the disadvantages of fast food and show them how to cook healthy food in a simple way,” she says. “I also want to tell them about junk food: how it is made, what kind of meat it has and how it is the main cause of many diseases such as obesity and heart disease.”
Her inspiration came from watching her own four children’s bad eating habits and her efforts to curb them.
“I noticed them eating junk food more than three times a week and even sweets and crisps daily. Especially on their way back home from school, they tend to feel hungry and these snacks are available in their school which gives them easy access.”
They are not alone. Fast food addiction is on the rise and, unless checked, it could be a ticking time bomb. A recent study in Oman found that five per cent of children aged between 10-18 years old were overweight and nine per cent were medically obese.
Having been around kids long enough to notice the drastically changing patterns in food consumption, Muna had been taking advantage of her job as a teacher to educate the children in her class about good eating habits and the importance of healthy breakfasts.
“Parents and caregivers play a key role in not only making healthy choices for children but also teaching children to make healthy choices for themselves,” she says.
Now, she has been making the effort to send her own children to school with homemade sandwiches and sliced fruits so that they can avoid fast food. Even when the family goes out for dinner at restaurants, Muna now encourages her kids to develop a healthy diet by ordering grilled meats and salads.
However, by using a bigger platform, such as an institute, Muna hopes to reach out to people on a larger scale.
“Through my institute, I hope to visit schools to demonstrate to kids how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Hopefully this way, we can bring down the number of children that depend on fast food and instead provide them with healthier solutions and recipes that parents can implement in their diets using my ideas,” says Muna.
To help spread her message and provide solutions to parents, Muna created an official Facebook page ‘Stop Junk Food, Start Healthy Food’ as a part of her campaign.
But the proud Jordanian now needs your help to win the ‘Philadelphia Creativity for a Cause’ competition. In order to be first past the finishing post, Muna needs a minimum of 10,000 votes from supporters.
At the moment, she is in second place with just over 1,000 votes and is asking Oman to get behind her and support the cause, spreading her message on social media.
Whether she wins or not, ultimately Muna says she will carry on striving to implement healthy eating habits for children and wants to get sponsors on board to help the campaign.
“My passion is to reduce these bad habits by building a healthy community for a better future, and to me, it’s a grand prize if I’ve managed to make a change of lifestyle with just one child,” she says.
The most important part is to verify the vote through email or the vote will not be counted.