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Putting the pressure on critical food and nutrition challenges in Samoa and other Pacific Islands
8:35 pm GMT+12, 16/07/2017, Samoa

Why are people in Samoa and other Pacific Island countries eating more fats, sugars and salty food than ever before?
This and other questions related to the alarming growth of obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) is just one of the many challenges facing governments in Samoa and other Pacific Islands such as Fiji and Tonga.
Other critical challenges facing Pacific Island countries including technical assistance strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on small island economies, food and nutrition security were the focus of meetings of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) multidisciplinary team based in Samoa led by the FAO Sub-regional Coordinator, Eriko Hibi and other FAO officers based in the region.
The discussions centred on how FAO is working to implement the Global Plan of Action (GAP) on food security and nutrition. Tim Martyn, FAOs policy officer based in Fiji, said Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as Samoa are moving towards addressing food and nutrition challenges but that a greater window of opportunity lay with common action among UN agencies such as FAO, WHO and UNICEF working in concert with actors in the agriculture, health and education sectors.
The GAP development was agreed during the SIDS Conference in 2014 held in Apia.  Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives of SIDS around the world proposed that FAO develop the GAP as a direct response to food and nutrition challenges and has become an integral element (paragraph 61) of the SIDSs Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway Outcome document adopted at the September 2014 Conference.  The GAP sets as its aims ending huger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture while supporting SIDs in advancing the 2030 sustainable development agenda.
“Samoa is just one of a number of many SIDS facing a man-made crisis that threatens the health of families and the wealth of its 34 member nations. NCDs or non-communicable diseases are the number one killer in the world with over 38 million deaths a year while ‘hidden hunger’ or micronutrient deficiency hit hardest at young children and pregnant women” said Fiasili Lam, the FAO policy officer based in Apia.
 Tim Martyn reported that in the Pacific alone, on average, NCDs account for 70 percent of all deaths and account for three times the cost of natural disasters to island State economies. The tragedy is that most of these deaths are preventable.” “Diet is a major cause of NCDs and ‘hidden hunger’.  We literally are what we eat he said.
Samoa has been identified as facing a health epidemic of rising disability, suffering, and early deaths, caused by escalating rates of NCDs. NCDs, principally cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, are the leading causes of death and disability in Samoa, and responsible for between 75 and 80 percent of deaths.
The overall prevalence of obesity in Samoa has been estimated at 63.1%, with 89.1% of the population considered overweight.  In addition, the adult (25-64 years of age) diabetes rate rose from 22.3% in 2002, to 45.8% in 2013.
In the Pacific Islands the statistics are startling. Fifty percent of the male population of Tonga are estimated to be obese, the highest prevalence out of 188 countries worldwide. Over 45 percent of American Samoa’s population have diabetes and the Pacific overall has the world’s highest rate of diabetes.
“To prevent serious diseases, countries need access to safe nutritious food, but this is often not readily available, or affordable, for many.  People are making choices to buy the food they can afford – and too often what is affordable is what is making them sick. It’s not just a matter of improved education or healthcare – we need serious investment in programmes to improve the access of at- risk households to nutritious foods, and to lower the cost of eating healthily. Because what we’re facing is nothing short of a disaster”, emphasisd Eriko Hibi, FAO’s Subregional Coordinator.
Hibi noted that FAO’s new five-year plan for its work in the Pacific (the Country Programming Framework 2018 – 2022), building on earlier work in areas such as food security, enhanced nutrition and attention to micro-nutrient deficiencies, safe food and promoting sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry, was close to finalisation awaiting the final signature by governments in the coming months…


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