by: Dominika Bzduchova
Kuwait is well-known for its buzzing, truly limitless, all-tastes-encompassing F&B scene. Unfortunately, it is also well-known for allegedly being the most obese nation in the world. Kuwaitis are facing serious, often life-threatening, health conditions linked to their diets. Though available sources differ in their actual figures of obese adults – somewhere in between 39.7% and 42.8% – it is not only the adults who are affected and threatened by their alarming diets and eating habits. The obesity rates among the young population are most probably even higher. Who would think that a state with so much wealth like Kuwait for some reason isn’t capable of taking care of the health of its citizens, and especially its youth?
Causes of the worrying obesity rates are multiple, the latest one being a rising impact of social media. The growing influence of certain Kuwaiti social media personalities is striking. According to Abdullah Al Askari, a leading local health and fitness role model, these influencers should be tackled in order to safeguard Kuwaiti teenagers, who are the most susceptible consumers of the distressing F&B suggestions available on Instagram and other social media platforms.
Kuwait’s obesity challenge has deep roots. Older explanations of its causes include the oil wealth and the inflow of American food. In 2018, Kuwait is still one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Its F&B portfolio is defined by countless food outlets, including the usual fast food chains and a good number of state-of-the-art restaurants. In addition, there is a new trend of whole food complexes popping up, even in the more remote areas of the country. At the same time, Kuwait prides itself with an extensive network of health and fitness facilities, with some belonging to the ‘state-of-the-art’ league, too. Therefore, if one wishes to have a healthy lifestyle, Kuwait certainly does have it all.
Neither the 24/7 availability of A-Z cuisines, nor the sophisticated food delivery services should automatically translate into one’s adoption of an unhealthy lifestyle. More so, the expansion of healthy food outlets throughout Kuwait is rather striking. Why then, if a consumer has such a wide choice of F&B places, does he or she nevertheless opt for the junk food? When referring to adults, the answer is a mix of four elements: comfort, laziness, ignorance and lack of education. While the first three are hardly open to external efforts and impulses (i.e. the change must come directly from the person himself or herself), the educational deficiency is indeed manageable and could be overcome. When it comes to children and their habits (and not only eating habits), they usually follow a role model – whether at home or in school – and therefore the responsibility of making the right, well-balanced food choice lays on the shoulders of that particular role model.
The country’s educational system is lacking a uniform and comprehensive program that would help create more awareness about healthy eating habits – and healthy lifestyle in general – among the Kuwaiti youth. ‘Kuwait is rated amongst the highest worldwide for obesity, child diabetes and all the other diseases which are associated with them. It has now become very important for the Ministry of Education to take a stand and implement an educational sports or nutritional program in the schools to build health awareness in our youth. We should go as far as bringing in classes to educate children about the importance of healthy eating and exercise’, said Al Askari in a recent interview.
Yet introducing the classes is not enough. Education begins at home. What is the point of having a ‘healthy lifestyle’ class if the child’s home environment doesn’t follow and implement such lifestyle? Al Askari was right when he stressed that ‘It is crucial to educate parents about providing a healthy diet for their children, the importance of exercise and physical activity and how to remain disciplined in these healthy habits. If the house is full of junk food and the children see their parents eating that, then obviously they will eat it too. I believe the change should start at home’.
However, what is more worrying are the already-mentioned sponsored F&B advertorials on social media platforms such as Instagram, in which famous social media influencers (who tend to have hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of followers, mostly teenagers) promote specific F&B outlets. These influencers – whether they are aware of it or not – severely impact the food choices of their followers; and as such, it is becoming common to notice an unknown F&B place (no matter if it offers quality food or not) gaining unforeseen popularity thanks to a seconds-long video clip, which has the audience so interested that they literally flood the premises shortly after the video clip’s release.
‘Kuwait has really effective social media personalities, who have a huge number of followers and fans and are very influential in the media. Some of them are doing really great things for the country as far as charity work, cleaning beaches, cleaning the desert, planting greenery etc. Unfortunately, most of these influencers are being called to promote unhealthy new concept restaurants, with no consideration to how it will affect the youth and health standards in the country. These influencers have to beware that most of their followers are in their teens and 20s and that they are easily influenced. It would be really fortunate if the influencers could balance out the restaurants or type of food they are promoting and express the importance of having a healthy diet and living a healthy life’, said Al Askari. Gaining control over what is being promoted by social media and their influencers is a long shot. Nevertheless, warning about the impact of such influencers and their campaigns is the first step to take. The fact that Al Askari and others – who are continuously promoting healthy eating and healthy lifestyle – are speaking out is promising. Or was the deadline for a response to deteriorating eating habits of Kuwaitis passed a long time ago?