UAE start-up battles child diabetes, obesity through technology

Yacob lets parents track what their children are eating at school and keep tabs on nutritional data
UAE start-up battles child diabetes, obesity through technology
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Sun 14 Apr 2019 02:09 PM

A UAE start-up designed to measure the nutritional intake of users and instil healthy eating habits among local children plans to expand internationally following initial success in the UAE, according to CEO and founder Faisal Al Hammadi.

The start-up is among 10 start-ups taking part in an acceleration initiative from Techstars Dubai Accelerator in partnership with GINCO Investments, hosted at Dubai Future Foundation’s Area 2071.

The start-up has built software for use by school canteens, which allows parents to login to a ‘parent dashboard’ see what their child has consumed and its nutritional value.

Vendors register products through a separate dashboard in which the nutritional data is gathered.

“We are looking to improve nutrition and health. We know that diabetes is a big problem, not only locally but globally,” Al Hammadi said in an interview with Arabian Business. “We think the best way to tackle the problem is in the early stage.”

To date, the platform has been deployed at 45 schools across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

“The next step is to see how we can incentivise the right behaviour when it comes to food consumption,” Al Hammadi added. “We want to have gamification tools that would help students make a healthier decision. We believe that fundamentally, if people know the impact of a product on their body, they would make a good decision. But nowadays there is no transparency.”

Yacob has so far raised $500,000 in funds, including two government grants for $50,000. It processes 10,000 transactions per day and has processed and registered over five million products.

Looking to the future, Al Hammadi said that the firm believes it can expand far beyond the region.

“It’s a global problem. School foods are not only a local problem. Globally, it is sub-standard,” he said. “This comes down to the business model of how school canteens operate.”

The platform, he added, can be easily adapted to other markets.

“We think this system can be used in the GCC or even Europe and the US,” he said. “We’re able to customise the standards based on the regulations of the city or country. The system that we built for Dubai will comply with the standards of Dubai Municipality. Later on we can customise this to suit any market in the world.”

According to government statistics released in 2018, as many as 1 in 3 UAE children are overweight, and 17 percent are obese.

Although no precise figure on the number of diabetic children in the UAE exists, it is believed to be rising. Almost 20 percent of people in the UAE suffer from diabetes.

“Parents tend to complain about school food prices. But I say that if they spend one less day on a holiday in Europe, they can cover the cost of healthy food for a whole year. It’s a perception thing,” Hammadi said. “If they know the impact of school food on a child’s health, they’ll make the right decision.”

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