Change the focus of health messages so that it’s not about taxes but love

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Judging from the deliberations in Parliament during the past two days, especially yesterday, there is no shortage of ideas on healthy living. 

Whether it was addressing the scourge of obesity, smoking or alcohol use, every Member of Parliament who had an opinion about the laws being debated, which were all health related, knew what needed to be done. 

For instance, they knew that our people needed to adopt healthier dietary practices, as opposed to the mountain of junk and unhealthy foods we are eating today. 

There were some members who called for initiatives to encourage our people to go back to our traditional diet of organic foods and reduce the reliance on processed food. Fantastic idea. 

Some members called on the Government to provide financial help to encourage the development of plantations, free range chicken and pig farms and so forth. Another fantastic idea. Who would say no to that? 

To be honest, some of them sounded so intelligent and really well versed with the issues you’d wished you didn’t know what they actually look like. 

With due respect, this is the travesty of what is happening in Samoa. When it comes to health, our leaders need to practice what they preach. And many of them need to walk the talk.

They cannot lecture people about healthy living, what not to do when it comes to diet and then continue on their merry ways as if that is normal. There is one word for that. Hypocrites.

The truth about Samoa today is pretty clear. We live in a sick nation. All you have to do is check out our non-communicable diseases statistics and you will see just how bad it is. 

In Parliament yesterday, the revelation about the dramatic rise in the number of people needing dialysis treatment is truly scary. Yet that is the reality for Samoa today.

We cannot deny that we have far too many fat people in this country. Now some people say Samoans are naturally big boned. They’ve got a point. But being big-boned is different from being obese. We’re talking about obesity here.

There are reasons for this. Firstly our dietary habits are bad and some of us eat far more than we should. Then there is the case of people who love eating the wrong food so that all they can do is watch themselves grow sideward. It’s a pity.

To be fair to Parliament and our leaders, we cannot fault them for attempting to come up with ways to reduce these bad health statistics. 

But there is one glaring problem there. 

All the laws in Parliament this week are there for money reasons. Yes. 

Healthy living was merely an excuse to tax people some more. The cigarettes law was about taxes, the food-related bill discussed yesterday was also about taxes. Which means that whatever they said about healthy living was secondary because that is not what these bills and laws are really designed for.

If our Parliament leaders want to begin to address Samoa’s health issues, they have got to change the focus and move it away from taxes and money. The focus has got to be love and how you save someone’s life. 

And there is no better way of doing that than leaders leading by example when they start to live and look healthy. Again with the utmost respect, the pictures of our Parliamentarians are hardly ones of health and wellness. 

There are some M.P.s and Cabinet Ministers who are the exceptions and are great role models when it comes to healthy living. The Minister of Communications and Information Technology Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i is one. 

Sadly, they are few and are badly outnumbered by the obese ones. 

We applaud Parliament for thinking and raising the issue of health. But it has got to be more than just cheap political talk. 

If we want a healthier Samoa, the change has to start from the top. It is about changing mindsets, reversing bad habits. The irony is that most of us – including Members of Parliament - are aware of it. 

But now we need to walk the talk. We need to translate what we know into action. How?

Many people make a big deal about going to the gym and taking up the latest fad in fitness training and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be active and train hard. 

But for some of us, a good start will be to conquer that fork and spoon first.

Learn to say no to obesity and say yes to a healthy lifestyle that incorporates a good balance of healthy eating and daily exercises.

Have a great weekend Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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