Top Samoa medical specialists were involved in a study which reported a genetic variant that affects energy metabolism and fat storage which partly explains why Samoans have among the world’s highest levels of obesity.
The Samoan specialists included:
· Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, an internist & consultant specialist public health physician and currently Director General/Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Health;
· Muagututi‘a Sefuiva Reupena, Chief of the Bureau of Statistics, Government of Samoa;
· Dr. Satupa‘itea Viali, Consultant Specialist Cardiologist in Samoa
· John Tuitele, a public health physician in the American Samoa Department of Health.
The study was headed by Stephen McGarvey, Professor in the Brown University School of Public Health, with a team from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Cincinnati and Yale University, as well as Samoan government officials.
The team pinpointed a single genetic variant on chromosome 5 that, according to the researchers’ estimate, is associated with about 35 percent higher odds of being obese compared to not having the gene variant.
While this elevated risk is much greater than any other known common BMI (Body Mass Index) risk variant, overall it explains only about 2 percent of the variation in BMI among Samoans.
Other factors such as diet, physical activity and early life nutrition and growth are important, and their influences on obesity in the context of this gene variant will be investigated in future studies, McGarvey said in a press statement.
“Don’t take this as ‘You are Samoan, you are fated to be obese,’ “We don’t think that’s true. We don’t have any evidence that that’s the case,” he added.
So when the findings of the study were released this month, Samoa’s Government had already taken steps to address the threat of obesity on the people, according to Samoa’s Director General of Health.
Said Leausa, “The research findings may explain part of the bigger picture and it’s just one part of the many reasons for the high levels of BMI and obesity among our people.
“At most it may account for a somewhat elevated risk where many other factors such as diet and physical activity come into play. A healthy diet and physical activity are still key to maintaining a healthy weight.”
“The exercise program involving villages is one approach which includes regular exercise coupled with healthy diets.
“We have several programs targeting children between years one to eight years old.
“We know that Samoa is one of the countries that is in the top five and we’re looking at our future generations, we don’t have that in the children, but we have seen the changes.
“So the programs entails talking about diet, talking about good health and also looking at increasing their physical activity. Because I know most are on processed foods now. The programme was launched by the Prime Minister and he had urged parents for their support.
Continued Leausa, “The Prime Minister feels that most of this stems from what the parents are buying for the kids.”
“The Ministry is continuing its public awareness programs to encourage parents to adopt to healthy diet for their children that include a balance and nutritional school lunch.
“Legislation have also been passed by parliament to address the rising incidents of obesity and other non-communicable diseases.
“We are fully aware of the situation and we are reiterating repeated calls from the Prime Minister for our people to seriously think twice about their eating habits and for regular medical checks up with their doctors. We also acknowledge different groups and organisations here in Samoa that have lead by example in promoting physical exercises to lose weight through boot camps and nutritional/dietary education,” he concluded.