According to the Abu Dhabi Department of Health (DOH), “Weqaya is an Arabic word that means prevention. The heart shape encircling the word Weqaya emphasizes that simple lifestyle preventive measures can decrease the cases and deaths related to Cardio Vascular Diseases.”
The DOH, formerly the Abu Dhabi Health Authority, launched the Weqaya program in April 2008 as a response to the rise of noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases both globally and in the UAE.
Weqaya began as a screening and intervention program to inform the public of Abu Dhabi’s high rate of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
According to the DOH, the results from the initial years of Weqaya screening “demonstrated a very high burden of cardiovascular risk factors in the Abu Dhabi Emirati population, confirming international data suggesting that the UAE has the world’s second highest rate of diabetes, and adding details of high rates of overweight, obesity and pre-diabetes.”
The DOH created the nutrition-labeling program as a way to combat and lower the rate of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the emirate. It was created in 2014 in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council Working Group for Food and Agriculture.
The nutrition-labeling program was modeled after the Swedish “Keyhole” initiative. The Keyhole logo can be found on many food products, restaurants, catering companies and supermarkets, among others, in Sweden.
The Keyhole logo signifies that the food has been vetted by the government and it meets the standards of a healthy diet. It is a way to help people choose healthy food with ease because, as Amani Saqallah, a nutrition expert at the Royal Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi and a Weqaya Ambassador explained, “nutrition facts are very important, but at the end of the day not everyone is able to understand them.”
The Weqaya symbol – a stylized blue heart – is intended to work in a similar manner. It is meant to narrow the gap in nutrition knowledge.
“Food labeled with the Weqaya logo is not intended as diet, therapeutic or allergy free food, but rather as a better, healthy food choice,” according to the Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council.
To be Weqaya approved, a dish cannot contain over 700 calories a serving. And for every 100 grams of a portion, it cannot contain more than 3 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 2 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol and 320 milligrams of sodium. Exceptions were announced earlier this month for heart-healthy fat and cholesterol found in fish, nuts, and avocados.
The DOH expects to begin labeling individual items in supermarkets soon. But for now, the Weqaya symbol can be found on the menu of a number of restaurants in Abu Dhabi.
Alexa Mena is a multidisciplinary artist and media editor for livehealthy.ae. When she's not writing for livehealthy, she's thinking about design and how it shapes the human experience.