The Kingdom of Bahrain is a small country of the Near East which has experienced a major improvement in the standard of living in the last decades.
Due to harsh environmental conditions, agricultural production covers only a small fraction of the country’s food needs. Nevertheless agricultural production has increased due to expansion of cultivated areas and development of irrigation, in spite of important constraints such as soil infertility, scarcity of irrigation water, and a limited supply of skilled workers.
There have been major improvements in access to health services and education. Health Services provide free medical care to all Bahraini citizens. Over the last three decades life expectancy has increased from 60 to 74 years. The quality of maternal and child health care is reflected in the low infant mortality rate and in the decrease in maternal mortality.
The Human Development Index has reached a high level. The proportion of the population affected by poverty is minor. Social programmes are well established and will enable the National Millennium Development Goals to be met.
Due to globalization and to the rapid increase in living standards, dietary patterns have undergone an intense westernization. Consumption of fast-foods and eating out have become common. Lifestyles are often sedentary. Almost two-thirds of the adults are either overweight or obese. This nutrition transition will cause a sharp increase in the incidence of non-communicable diseases.
The immigrant population, which is quite large, shares the same problems of overnutrition as the Bahraini population.
Breastfeeding is a very common practice among Bahraini women as 95% of children under two years were reported to have been breastfed at some point. Yet, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding is very low among infants under 4 months. Furthermore, bottle-feeding is a very common practice. These inadequate infant feeding practices probably play an important role in the obesity epidemic. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) and the Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which have been implemented for more than a decade, have not yet given the expected results.
Regarding micronutrient deficiencies, iron deficiency anemia remains an important public health problem. High prevalence is observed among preschool children and women, but more data are needed to assess the impact of current intervention programmes such as iron supplementation and flour fortification with iron. Vitamin A and iodine deficiency are not considered public health problems in Bahrain.
Despite notable efforts of the government in the nutrition and health sectors, the obesity epidemic is progressing and innovative ways of combating it are needed.