Poor Health in the Pacific Has Hope
The World Health Organization has identified nine out of the top 10 most obese nations as being located in the Pacific. Within these nine nations, rates of obesity range from 35 percent all the way up to 50 percent.

Obesity measurements are calculated by looking at an individual’s BMI, or body mass index. Pacific islanders naturally have a larger build than people of other ethnicities. This is the case because, at one time, people from this region were forced to endure long and difficult journeys at sea. People able to store enough energy in the form of fat were more likely to survive, and evolution selected for these genes. However, this genetic component still does not explain all of the obesity rates.

What does help to explain this epidemic is the increasing number of foods that are being imported to the islands. Traditional tropical diets included an abundance of fresh produce and fish, but these foods are now replaced with more processed foods, which provide a cheaper alternative. One World Health Organization worker and Fijian native even noted that “it’s cheaper to buy a bottle of coke than a bottle of water.”

Additionally, urbanization and increasing numbers of office jobs contribute to poor health in the Pacific. Historically, many jobs such as fishing and farming included a great deal of physical activity. However, as more people begin to drive to work in offices, physical activity is greatly reduced.

This obesity academic is exhibited in children as well. Roughly one in five Pacific children are obese, and diabetes is a constant concern for children as well as health services who struggle to meet increasing demands.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, there is still much hope for improving health in the Pacific. Members of the World Health Organization are confident that higher taxes on soft drinks, controlled marketing of products aimed at children and general promotions of a healthy lifestyle can help to turn things around.

Additionally, Australian researchers recently found an issue with the way that the rates of Type 2 diabetes were being measured in the Pacific. Essentially, blood glucose levels measured in the first phase of the survey were mistakenly compared to plasma levels in the follow-up portion of the survey. This caused rates to become inflated to nearly twice their actual value.

It was originally believed that Samoa experienced a 24.3 percent increase in diabetes from 2002 to 2013 when the actual increase was less than 3 percent. Tonga was thought to have experienced a 12 percent increase when diabetes rates actually decreased by three percent. Clearly, a recalculation may be required.

Although this inflation certainly does not mitigate the entire health crisis occurring in the Pacific islands, it does mean that at least rates of diabetes may be lower than was previously thought. Further steps to improve health in the Pacific will need to include conscious efforts on behalf of national governments, health organizations and citizens to strongly promote healthy living.

Nathaniel Siegel

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in SamoaPoverty in Samoa is very different compared to poverty in a lot of other countries because Samoa has one of the most stable and healthy economies in the Pacific Region. Poverty is more prevalently seen in the rural communities of Samoa. These communities have unequal opportunity and distribution of benefits compared to Samoa’s urban areas, causing 26.9% of Samoans to live below the national poverty line.

5 Things to Know About Poverty in Samoa

  1. Many of the poor and rural areas of Samoa are in remote parts of the island that are tormented by cyclones and other harsh natural disasters. These natural disasters constitute a major threat to fishing and farming communities. Oftentimes, the damage done makes for very slow recovery time, meaning a drop in income for individuals in the rural fishing and farming communities.
  2. Gender and age inequality plays a substantial role in the lives of women and young individuals in Samoa, especially in the more impoverished areas. These disadvantages cause families who need to rely on the woman or children to work at a lower of income. Often times women, children and young adults do not have the same opportunities for work as grown men do and are typically paid much less, making survival that much more difficult.
  3. Samoa also suffers from agricultural issues. It’s narrow resource base and shallow soils are very vulnerable to erosion. Along with it’s declining forestry resources, Samoa is a, sometimes, difficult place for islanders to make a stable income in the agricultural industry. Because many Samoans in rural communities are in this industry, there is a seemingly unending cycle of poverty.
  4. In Samoa, only 29.4% of the population aged 15 years and older are employed. Jobs are slim all throughout the island, but especially slim in the rural areas. In rural areas, families survive on one of two options: subsistence farming or simply rely on a family overseas to send them money.
  5. There are many sanitary, health and educational needs that are not met in Samoa’s rural communities. Access to education, hospitals, clean water and other resources are very hard to come by. In 2011, it was found that 25 percent of Samoans do not have access to clean drinking water. It was also found that the education gap between children in urban and rural communities was very wide, resulting in rural children only obtaining farming jobs and therefore remaining in poverty.

The number of impoverished individuals in such a stable economy such as Samoa is quite rare. To end poverty in Samoa, especially for those living in rural areas, new jobs and better farming techniques must be implemented. If the island works together, one day Samoa’s economic gap will narrow and create a much better future for their population.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr