Weekender

Imported foods raise obesity, health issues for Pacific Islanders

Written By : June Simms, VOA Special English Development Report. The World Health Organisation says obesity rates are rising in Pacific island countries. So, too, are health problems linked to
27 May 2011 12:00

image Written By : June Simms, VOA Special English Development Report. The World Health Organisation says obesity rates are rising in Pacific island countries. So, too, are health problems linked to being overweight.
The WHO says a major reason for the rising obesity rates is an increase in imported foods. It says many Pacific islanders have replaced their traditional diets of vegetables and fruits with imported processed foods. Dr. Temo Waqanivalu is with the World Health Organisation’s South Pacific office in Suva, Fiji. He says many of the imported products lack nutritional value. But they are widely available, he says, and often cost less than healthier foods.
“In some of the places, you’d be amazed to see how a bottle of Coke is cheaper than a bottle of water. I think that represents the kind of off-environment we’ve created that doesn’t really encourage or make lifestyle choices an easy choice for the population.”
Dr. Waqanivalu says the increase in imported foods is only part of the problem. He says problems with agriculture production limit the availability of healthier foods. And a lack of physical activity among many Pacific islanders only adds to the obesity problem.
The WHO says more than fifty per cent of the population is overweight in at least ten Pacific island countries. The rate is as high as eighty per cent among women in the territory of American Samoa. Fiji had the lowest obesity rate at thirty percent.
In all, almost ten million people live in Pacific island countries. The WHO estimates that about forty percent of them have health disorders related to diet and nutrition.
Diabetes rates are among the highest in the world. Forty-seven per cent of the people in American Samoa have diabetes. So do forty-four per cent of the people in Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand.
By comparison, the diabetes rate is thirteen per cent in the United States, a country that has its own problems with rising obesity.
Officials also note an increase in nutritional problems like anemia and not enough vitamin A in the diets of Pacific islanders. Dr. Waqanivalu says treating conditions related to obesity and diet puts pressure on limited health resources and budgets.
Earlier this year, leaders of island nations met in Vanuatu for the first-ever Pacific Food Summit. Dr. Waqanivalu says the issues are finally getting the attention they deserve.


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