Pacific islanders pay heavy price

By Jane Parry - World Health Organisation 17 February 2016, 12:00AM

Scattered across the Pacific Ocean are thousands of islands which make up three regions known as Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Beyond the image of white sandy beaches and carefree lifestyles, the Pacific islands are facing serious health problems, the prime culprit being imported foods.

In at least 10 Pacific island countries, more than 50% (and in some, up to 90%) of the population is overweight according to World Health Organization (W.H.O) surveys. More seriously, obesity prevalence ranges from more than 30% in Fiji to a staggering 80% among women in American Samoa, a territory of the United States of America (U.S.A).

W.H.O. defines overweight as having a body mass index (B.M.I) equal to or more than 25, and obesity as a B.M.I equal to or more than 30. Diabetes prevalence among adults in the Pacific region is among the highest in the world; 47% in American Samoa compared with 13% in mainland USA, and it ranges from 14% to 44% elsewhere in the region.

Micronutrient deficiencies are also common in this region. 

In 15 of 16 countries surveyed, more than one fifth of children and pregnant women were anaemic. In Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, iodine deficiency and related goitre are endemic although, in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, great progress was made recently through salt iodization. In many other Pacific countries and territories the situation is yet to be assessed.

Vitamin A deficiency is also a significant public health risk in Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea.

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By Jane Parry - World Health Organisation 17 February 2016, 12:00AM
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