Tongan Prime Minister urges Pacific Island leaders to fight rampant obesity

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The Prime Minister of Tonga Akilisi Pohiva has called on fellow heads of state in the Pacific to slim down to set the right example for the region’s rotund residents. He even suggested they could set up a weight-loss competition.

The Pacific is home to the world’s highest rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases, and Pohliva has proposed making the competition part of the Pacific Islands Forum, an annual meeting of independent states in the Pacific Ocean. The Tongan leader suggested that each leader is weighed at this year’s meeting before coming back the following year for another weigh in.

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“It is not about who loses the most kilos, but in order to shake off the weight, you must eat light and having that healthy mentality will go a long way,” Pohiva, a former school teacher, reportedly told The Samoa Observer. “Once the leaders are adapting to that mindset they would be determined to get their people on the same aspect and go from there.”

According to the World Health Organization, one in five children and teenagers in 10 Pacific countries are classed as obese, while some studies show that 40 to 70 percent of obese children will become an obese adult. The WHO claims the prevalence of obesity in the region is down to the replacement of traditional foods with imported, processed foods.

In Nauru, 61 percent of adults are obese. On the Cook Islands, the figure is 56 percent. Globally, around 12 percent of adults are classed as obese. The high rates of obesity in region has led life expectancy to drop while cases of diabetes and cardiovascular disease have risen.

Pohiva expressed dismay at the poor impact of the initiatives currently trying to tackle the issue in the Pacific and said he hoped the weight-loss competition might set a good example for people to follow.

“The non-communicable disease [rates] and child obesity has everything to do with our eating habits and our lifestyle and it is complex issue when it comes to our Pacific people,” he said.

“And with Pacific island leaders, we meet and talk and talk about this issue, yet initiatives on this issue are not making an impact… We have been advocating the same issue over the years but it doesn’t seem to work.”