The purpose of this study is to provide an understanding of the prevalence of overweight and obesity among school children in Kuwait.
Many scholars believe that health risks can be averted in case overweight problems are identified at an early age (El-Bayoumy, Shady, & Lotfy 2009, p. 154; Rubinstein, 2005, p. 103). Health care professionals should focus their attention on childhood obesity because it is a good predictor of dangerous diseases that can manifest themselves during adulthood. In particular, timely disclosure can prevent such diseases as hypertension, diabetes, respiratory disorders, or cardiovascular diseases (El-Bayoumy, Shady, & Lotfy 2009, p. 154; International Diabetes Federation, 2011). Several pieces of research conducted in the last two decades have revealed that the prevalence of obesity among children increased by 17% – 30% in developed countries (Seidell, 2000).
The increasing prevalence of obesity and overweight among children and the resultant effects are a crucial concern to public health (Hazmi & Warsy, 2002). Childhood obesity is known to increase the chances of several negative effects, disorders and diseases such as high blood pressure, damage to self-esteem, osteoarthritis, heart-related diseases, sleep disorder, diabetes, and particular kinds of cancer (Must & Strauss, 1999). The purpose of this study is to provide an understanding of the prevalence of overweight and obesity among school children in Kuwait.
The results from this study can help healthcare providers to assess the risk of developing health issues relating to obesity and overweight in children. Furthermore, the research seeks to examine attitudes and perceptions of teachers, parents, school administrators, and Ministries of Education and Health officials concerning overweight and obesity in children with the perspective to improve public health policies. In addition, the study focuses on major risk factors that influence the prevalence of childhood obesity. The study focuses on sample schools and school nurses as an approach to reach parents and the community at large through children.
School and school nurses in Kuwait
Public and private schools in Kuwait operate under regulations put together by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education; whereas the Private Education Department and Ministry of Education supervise and register all foreign schools in Kuwait (“Education in Kuwait”, 2012). School attendance is mandatory for children in Kuwait and public schools are free for Kuwaiti’s children between the ages of six and fourteen. Children between two and four years can attend private nursery schools (“Education in Kuwait”, 2012). The school system in Kuwait consists of elementary, intermediate, and secondary schools, including four years terms for each them (“Education in Kuwait”, 2012).
Schools principally play an important role by providing an environment that is safe and supportive with strategies and exercises that promote healthy behaviours. The school is identified as a significant setting to enhance childhood health as children spend quality time at school. Schools can serve as an optimal background for preventive attempts of overweight and obesity (Warren et al., 2003). Schools in Kuwait have participated in the struggle to prevent the increasing trends in childhood obesity and overweight with its roles (Murphy and Polivka, 2007). In recent years, most school-based programs initiated towards preventing the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity among children in Kuwait have shown great success (Warren et al., 2003).
The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children of 11 – 14 Years in Kuwait schools can be curbed if children are well educated and enlightened about diet as poor diet is a major risk factor of childhood obesity and overweight. Schools make available essential opportunities to influence the dietary habits of children which in turn, checks overweight and obesity among them. Schools are empowered to reach a vast number of children in Kuwait to educate them about a healthy and balanced diet (Sorkou et al., 2003).
The school nurse relates with children and their parents in the course of their duty in addressing the health challenges of students. Schools create a great opportunity for school nurses, parents and children to interrelate. Parents play significant roles in preventing childhood obesity and overweight, but specific cultural practices and religious beliefs of Kuwaitis have in one way or the other inhibited direct access to parents; hence, it is uncomplicated to reach parents through schools.
The introduction of school nurses in Kuwait is crucial as much Western Literature has stressed the important roles played by school nurses in mitigating the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity amongst other health challenges.
School nurses in public schools handle the mental, social, emotional, physical and psychological health of school children (Sorkou et al., 2003). The primary objective of the school nurse is to assist school children, parents and families, and the school community to tackle health issues faced by students such as for overweight and obesity (National Association of School Nurses, 2002). They carry out several services that prevent an outbreak of disease and influence the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children. One of such services includes health care education. They perform the role of educating and enlightening students and their parents about dietary, physical health and other issues that are connected with obesity and overweight (Schantz, 2007).
School nurses also serve as information providers for students and their parents. In addition, school nurses serve as a channel of communication between schools and providers of health care services within and around the community. Moyers, Bugle, & Jackson (2005) pointed out that parents prefer to obtain information relating to their children’s weight from school nurses.
School nurses also perform certain crucial roles in adjusting health policies within schools and the society at large via wellness committee service. School nurses serve as agents for the effective implementation and management of school-based obesity and weight-reduction programmes in schools (National Association of School Nurses, 2002). The relevance of school nurses in influencing health issues such as the prevalence of childhood obesity and overweight cannot be overemphasised.