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Urgent intervention needed to tackle NCD in Kuwait
December 9, 2017, 5:11 pm

Non-communicable diseases (NCD), such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer, are the leading cause of mortality worldwide. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) attributed 70 percent, or nearly 46 million deaths to NCDs from a total 56 million deaths worldwide.

Majority of these deaths were caused by the four main NCDs: cardiovascular disease, 17.7 million deaths (accounting for 45% of all NCD deaths); cancer, 8.8 million deaths (22%); chronic respiratory disease, 3.9 million deaths (10%); and diabetes, 1.6 million deaths (4%).

In Kuwait, 73 percent of the deaths each year have been attributed to NCD afflictions. Of these, 41 percent was from cardiovascular diseases, 14 percent from cancers, 4 percent from diabetes and 2 percent from chronic respiratory diseases. The remaining 12 percent was from other NCD, such as mental illnesses, kidney diseases, Alzheimer's, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia. Given the relatively small size of Kuwait’s population, these figures are alarming and immediate effective action is clearly needed to combat NCDs in the country.

Globally the devastating rate of NCD mortality not only impedes the lives and livelihood of individuals and families, but also increases poverty and hinders the economic development of countries. In its annual assessment of global health, the WHO points out that the burden of NCD is growing and the number of people, families and communities afflicted worldwide is on the rise. Reiterating this view, a new study by the World Economic Forum estimated the global cost of NCDs, including through the undermining of productivity and resulting loss in capital and labor, would exceed US$47 trillion by the end of 2030.

Threats from NCD can be overcome to a large extent by leveraging existing knowledge and using easily available cost-effective solutions, says the UN’s top health agency. Though comprehensive and integrated action spearheaded by governments at the country level is a first line of response, other entities also have a role in combating NCDs. Individuals, civil society and non-governmental organizations, as well as the private sector, all play an important part in contributing to NCD prevention, the WHO report adds.

Despite the establishment of an operational NCD unit that functions within the Ministry of Health, Kuwait lacks a clear and cohesive policy, strategy and action plan that integrates and tackles the shared risk factors for NCD. However, on the plus side, the country does have a functioning nation-wide nutrition monitoring system called the Kuwait Nutrition Surveillance System (KNSS). Apparently, the authorities have so far not effectively utilized data from this system to tackle obesity and overweight, which are significant factors behind the high NCD mortality rate in Kuwait.

The KNSS, which was set up in 2001 in consultation with the WHO, is run by the Food and Nutrition Administration of Ministry of Health. The system monitors and provides data on health and nutritional status of the Kuwaiti population and helps identify prevalent nutrition-related complications, specify high-risk groups and monitor trends, as well as target resources for program planning and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions and programs.

Data from the latest available surveillance program, the KNSS 2014 report, show that overweight and obesity continue to challenge the government's healthcare initiatives. The report found that among population aged 20 and over, fully a third were overweight (34.6% of males and 30.5% of females).Even more alarmingly, the results showed that 39.2 percent of the population above the age of 20 were obese (36.1% of males and 42.3% of females). Of those obese, 4.5 percent of males and 8.3 percent of females were morbidly obese, in that they had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 40.

The surveillance report also shows that the trend towards overweight and obesity can be discerned right from school days. Data collected from students aged between 5 and 20 years of age, showed that 20.1 percent of those attending schools and colleges were already overweight (17.7% of males and 22.5% of females). Among the students 24.2 percent were found to be obese (25.6% of males and 22.8% of females). The only stage at which females showed a decrease in the prevalence of obesity was during their teenage years from 15 to 20, when the percentage of obese males was 32.8 against 20.9 percent of female teens.

Records show that the jump towards overweight and obesity clearly begins from school age, as only 6.7 percent of preschool children below the age of 5 were found to be overweight and 2.7 percent were obese. However, even at the preschool level, the risk factors for becoming overweight and obese in the future were discernable. Data collected from mothers of preschool children reveal that 51.5 percent of the babies consumed a sugary drink made from concentrates, and 27.7 percent consumed half-a-cup of carbonated drinks each day. Meanwhile, over half of the babies (51.1%) were reported to be actively engaged for less than an hour each day, and 47.2 percent of tiny tots spend in excess of two hours watching television or other electronic device screens.

The main conclusion drawn from the 2014 KNSS report is that there is an urgent need for more effective interventions and legislative measures to control obesity and non-communicable diseases in Kuwait.

Concerted efforts need to be put toward increasing the activity level among the different population age groups. In addition, nutrition awareness so as to improve the consumption of fruits and vegetables among all population age groups, especially children with the help of parents and teachers, is clearly required. The report also recommends that mothers should be encouraged to exclusively breastfeed from birth to six months of age and then to start proper complementary food with the continuation of breastfeeding up to two years of age.

Government can also play a key role in combating NCD by enacting and strengthening legislations designed to control the marketing of tobacco and junk foods, especially those foods rich in fat, sugar and salt, as well as by controlling the subsidies on food commodities such as sugar and white flour. 

Supportive environments and communities are fundamental in molding people’s food and lifestyle choices. By making easily accessible, available and affordable choices such as choosing healthier wholesome foods, engaging in regular physical activity and encouraging smoke-free environments, overweight and obesity, as well as many of the other NCDs, can be prevented or at least controlled to a large extent.


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