Obesity in Lebanon is a growing concern. National obesity rates doubled in the years between 1997 and 2008, and obesity among children has seen alarming rises. Surveys conducted at AUB have shown obesity rates for youth aged 6-19 growing from 20 percent to 35 percent over this ten-year period.
In response, AUB’s Department of Nutrition in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS) developed the school-based nutrition curriculum Ajyal Salima (originally under the name of Kanz al Sohat) to address issues and nutritional habits and requirements specific to Middle Eastern communities. Ajyal Salima was rolled out in 2010 by the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education in partnership with AUB and Nestlé Middle East.
Recently, the Cuprifère Consult agency has recognized the Ajyal Salima program for excellence in implementation and deemed it a benchmark for programs aiming to promote healthy eating and physical activity among schoolchildren around the world.
“Over the years, our studies have shown Ajyal Salima leads children to consume two times the amount of fruits and vegetables, eat breakfast more frequently, and have about 50 percent less chips and 36 percent less sweetened drinks,” said Dr. Carla Habib Mourad, lecturer of nutritional sciences at AUB and regional scientific coordinator for Ajyal Salima.
The curriculum includes teacher training; interactive learning and hands-on activities on nutrition, healthy eating, and physical activity; as well as questionnaires developed to track the improvement of children, before and after the interventions. It also involves parents and has been accompanied since 2012 by a ministry-decreed school canteen policy providing children with healthier food options.
"The science-based Ajyal Salima program has clearly been a positive addition to our schools, with all the behavior and dietary changes it has brought to children, and the nutrition training that it provided to teachers,” said Director General of Education Fadi Yarak from the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon.
Reaching over 55,000 students in Lebanon to date, Ajyal Salima targets 8 to 14-year-olds. It is currently adding 50 schools a year, having reached over 400 schools across the country so far.
“Tackling the growing triple burden of malnutrition—under-nutrition, obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies—can only happen through more partnerships between academia and the private and public sectors on programs such as the science-based Ajyal Salima,” said Dr. Nahla Hwalla, professor of human nutrition at AUB and former FAFS dean.
The award particularly lauded the step-by-step partnership approach among the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, AUB, and Nestlé Middle East.
"We aim to enable healthier and happier lives through our Nestlé for Healthier Kids initiative, under which Ajyal Salima is being implemented and expanded in the region,” said Karine Antoniades at Nestlé Middle East. “From leading research in children nutrition, to product innovation and introducing healthier foods, to education and innovative nutrition and lifestyle programs and services, our global ambition is to help 50 million children lead healthier lives by 2030.”
Ajyal Salima has been introduced in five countries in the region over the past eight years, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Palestine. The hope is to further expand it in Lebanese public schools and for private schools to introduce it into their own curricula.
Written by: Jennifer Muller, Office of Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org