Advertising ban proposed to combat obesity
The Vice-Chancellor of the Oceania University of Medicine says more sport in the villages and a ban on advertising sugary food and drinks will help curb Samoa’s obesity epidemic.
In an article published in the latest edition of the Journal of Samoan Studies, Manufalealili Dr. Viali Lameko says the work to end obesity needs to be a national goal, not one relegated to the Ministry of Health.
With people in power noticeably obese, work needs to be done to discourage any notion that obesity should be positively linked to influence and success, he said.
“My general observation, as a clinician living in Samoa is that most of the politicians and government officials in Samoa are either overweight or obese,” he said.
“Unfortunately, most of the church ministers and their wives are also generally obese.
“The fact that so many of these religious and political elites are obese, and in positions of power and influence, it may appear to many Samoans that power and influence are positively correlated with obesity.
“But, at the same time, Samoans are not immune from globalised cultural trends on what constitutes bodily beauty, propagated by social media.”
Manufalealili said the church and theological colleges could also more heavily integrate teaching on a healthy diet and exercise regime.
These things could be taught as “Christian callings” so that they are enacted with religious fervour.
But structural change has to happen too, including tighter regulations on sugar-sweetened food and drinks like higher taxes and advertising restrictions, he said.
“In Samoa, soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages are being advertised on billboards facing the main streets and there is a barrage on TV of retailers advertising imported snack foods and other processed foods,” he said.
“Perhaps using the same ideas to ban the food industries from conducting widespread advertisement of sugar-sweetened beverages and from sponsoring sports activities of all ages.
“Another more controversial measure is to increase the taxes on fatty, salty, and sugar-sweetened food to deter consumers from buying these items.”
One avenue the Ministry of Health has gone down is promoting exercise activities via broadcast like Zumba or aerobics sessions on television.
This is helpful for a certain segment of society but does not meaningfully reach the rural population, Manufalealii argues, who are more likely to be cooking or attending to family obligations while these activities are broadcast.
Other village level sporting activities also only target certain groups, he said.
With rugby for men, volleyball for young people, and Zumba or other dance-based exercises for women, there are very few activities families can do together or as a community.
A 2018 survey of the national education curriculum found the health and sports subjects lacking across most rural secondary schools.
“The imbalance between urban and rural access to sports activities and exercise need to be corrected, which is enhanced by the lack of sports facilities such as gyms and playgrounds at the rural setting."
Another moderately successful attempt by the Government has been to push families to return to their land to eat more traditionally grown food instead of imported products.
But this “ignores” the reality of the changing population, Manufalealii said.
“According to Samoa’s agricultural censuses of 1989, 1999 and 2009, […] less than half the households in Samoa, rely on agriculture for some of their food,” he said.
Encouraging families to grow more nutritious vegetables at home as well as the staple root crops has been effective but it should come with cooking classes at the school level too.
He said he is encouraged by the Ministry of Health’s indications that it will return to a community-based health model using the women’s committees for health promotion and disease prevention activities.
This helped significantly in the past and could do so again, Manufalealii said.
The Government has also indicated it needs more locally conducted, original research to help inform its health promotion activities.
“One of the on-going challenges faced by the health promotion unit of the Samoa Ministry of Health is the lack of original research which informs and evaluates the health promotion activities aimed at addressing obesity at the national and community level,” Manufalealii said.
“Any health promotion measure aiming to curb or reverse the obesity problem in Samoan must consider addressing the structural factors, such as the impacts of globalization and modernization; trade practices; rapid economic growth and development; unplanned urbanization; environmental degradation, and growing economic inequities.”
Volume 10 of the Journal of Samoan Studies, by the Centre for Samoan Studies will be published later this month and can be accessed online at the following: www.samoanstudies.ws and https://journal.samoanstudies.ws/