Kuwait is a small urban state located on the coast of the Persian Gulf. The country’s economy is dominated by the oil industry. Petroleum is the main source of national income. Agriculture is limited by the lack of water and arable land and by harsh climate conditions. Most of the food commodities for human consumption are imported, with the exception of aquatic resources which are plentiful. However, most of the captured fish and seafood is not consumed but is exported.
The population of the country is composed of approximately one third of Kuwaiti nationals and two thirds of immigrants. The population of Kuwaiti nationality is young, with around 41 % below 15 years of age.
Per capita income is high. Access to social services is very good and the Human Development Index is high. Education is free and compulsory for all citizens until the age of 15 years. Health care, including immunization, is free for all Kuwaitis.
The socio-economic development which followed the discovery of oil resources brought considerable changes to the food patterns and lifestyles of the Kuwaiti population. Traditional foods have been replaced by energy-dense high-fat foods. Excessive dietary intake and unbalanced diets along with sedentary lifestyles have contributed to the increase in the prevalence of overnutrition and the incidence of diet related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Currently approximately 80% of adult women are overweight or obese. Overnutrition is also highly prevalent among school children and adolescents.
Stunting and wasting do not constitute health problems in Kuwait. While overnutrition is progressing at an alarming rate among both men and women, iron deficiency anemia persists, affecting children, adolescents and women.
Since 1985, the government is actively promoting breastfeeding. However, early initiation of breastfeeding is still rare and duration is short. Breastmilk substitutes are subsidized and bottle-feeding is widespread. More efforts are needed for the promotion of breastfeeding and adequate infant feeding practices. Better infant feeding practices could play a role in preventing overnutrition.
The government of Kuwait is actively implementing policies to curb the obesity and non-communicable disease epidemic. Nevertheless measures are needed to more effectively promote healthy eating and to increase the population’s, and particularly women’s, level of physical activity.
While the health and nutrition situation of the Kuwaiti population is well documented, that of the non-Kuwaiti population, which represents two thirds of the total population, urgently needs to be evaluated.