Pacific states unable to reduce child obesity

PACIFIC Islands states are not making an impact in their attempts to reduce child obesity, says Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Secretary General, Dame Meg Taylor.

This is the reason behind subcommittees, met in Apia to formulate an agenda for next month’s Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Summit in Nauru.

They agree that it should be put back on the agenda for the leaders’ deliberations.

PIFS officials at one of the meetings in Apia.
PIFS officials at one of the meetings in Apia.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Dame Meg said the numbers are alarming and worrying with latest data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealing at least 20 per cent of children between the ages of five and 19 were obese in 10 Forum member countries.

Child obesity was one of the issues discussed during the Pacific-African Caribbean and Pacific group of States (PACP), which was addressed by Dame Meg.

“The really worrying fact is that we are not making an impact, we’ve now got a problem that obesity in children is one of the biggest concerns,” she said.

“If we have obese children, we have obese adults and diabetes rate will go in shock. If you look at the figures of childhood obesity, the Melanesians have the least and due to their diet, but the figures among Polynesians and Micronesians are really high and that is really worrying.

“And the subcommittees wanted to bring this to the leaders because if we don’t tackle it, we won’t have healthy people to live on our islands,” she said.

Dame Meg acknowledged that the different approaches that leaders adopted to address the issue within their respective states is their prerogative.

“Setting up a commission on childhood obesity and NCD’s but we know it’s here in the Pacific but we are not grappling the issue,” she said.

Obese children are more likely to develop a variety of health problems as adults, which includes cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance (often an early sign of impending diabetes), musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints), some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon) and disability according to the WHO.

But the WHO has also indicated that overweight and obesity are preventable.

Adolescents learn good eating habits at a youth centre in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
Adolescents learn good eating habits at a youth centre in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

“Supportive policies, environments, schools and communities are fundamental in shaping parents’ and children’s choices, making the healthier choice of foods and regular physical activity the easiest choice (accessible, available and affordable), and therefore preventing obesity.”

For infants and young children, WHO recommends early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and the introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at six months together with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.

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