Imported Food Results in Malnutrition in French PolynesiaFrench Polynesia consists of five archipelagoes. It is located in the South Pacific Ocean about halfway between South America and Australia and has an estimated population of 287,881 based on 2017 data. The scenic islands are a prime getaway destination resulting in the tourism sector accounting for 85% of the overall economy in 2012. Despite the success in tourism, French Polynesia is facing a domestic issue related to the importing of food. Consequently, many are living with noncommunicable diseases and malnutrition in French Polynesia.

Pearl fishing remains the second largest industry among the islands. However, as a result of tourism and globalization, the islands have shifted from an agricultural economy to one that depends on food imports.The health issues are not as a result of a lack of food or hunger in French Polynesia but rather the type of food being imported and consumed.

Before French Polynesia became a tourist destination, the food consumed came from local farms and fisheries and was shared among the community. Since then, globalization has had a negative effect on French Polynesian imports and diets.

Once people started vacationing on the island, they wanted foods that were closer to their westernized diets and not naturally found on the island. This paved the way for food imports and grocery stores.

Data collected by the Food Secure Pacific organization shows that chicken is the largest food imported to the islands and a large contributor to the “rapid change in the daily diets” of the Polynesian Islanders over the years. The amount of milk and meat, including chicken, has increased, though the amount of most fruits and vegetables “has remained relatively constant” on the islands.

Overall the addition of processed, imported foods and unhealthy, unbalanced eating habits that have resulted in major dietary issues and malnutrition in French Polynesia.

In 2010 the World Health Organization and United Nations partnered up with the Pacific Food Summit “to make a better future for the Pacific Islanders as a whole”. The intent was to draw attention to the different types of diseases, including malnourishment to obesity, that have been affecting the Pacific islands.

At the Summit, the organizations stated their hope to come to a “resolution on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases,” malnutrition and food-borne illness in French Polynesia. Their mission includes achieving food security in the Pacific, ensuring all people have access to safe, affordable and nutritious food that enables active and healthy lifestyles.

The World Health Organization’s strategic plan to help malnutrition in French Polynesia also aims to secure a positive future for the children of the islands.

Jennifer Lightle

Photo: Flickr

As a scenic collection of islands sitting in the South Pacific, French Polynesia is known for its breathtaking ocean views and sandy beaches. French Polynesia has a population of about 280,000, and the country’s GDP annual growth is approximately four percent. The value added to the country’s GDP for agriculture is approximately five percent. While the image of resort life makes food insecurity seem like a non-issue, hunger in French Polynesia presents a challenge to the country’s lower class, and issues of nutrition plague most of its residents.

According to a report from the World Health Organization, issues of hunger in French Polynesia can mainly be attributed to issues of nutrition. Anemia, iodine deficiencies and vitamin A deficiencies are common nutritional issues in the country, according to the report. Anemia was found to mostly affect pregnant women and children. According to the report, of the pregnant women attending antenatal consultations in 2000, approximately 60 percent were suffering from anemia. Of 107 children surveyed in 1997, approximately 43 percent had anemia. Further studies in 2001 and 2002 showed a growing prevalence of anemia in school children.

One area in respect to nutrition that has seen improvement is infant feeding. According to the report, approximately 81 percent of infants were breastfed at birth in 2000. In the following years, this percentage grew, and the percentage of infants who were exclusively breastfed grew from five percent in 1997 to 19 percent in 2001.

Hunger in French Polynesia is viewed as a less critical problem in the country in comparison to issues of nutrition, though it is still a prominent challenge for low-income families.

According to data from Trading Economics, the depth of hunger in kilocalories for those living in French Polynesia is about 150. This means that the depth of hunger is relatively low, though it tends to have a greater effect on lower-class citizens.

Leah Potter

Photo: Flickr