Pacific News Minute: Tonga PM: Pacific Leaders Should Lead by Example in Obesity Crisis

Aug 15, 2018

Prime Minister of Tonga Akilisi Pohiva
Credit ITU Pictures / Flickr

When the Pacific Islands Forum summit meets next month, leaders will discuss challenges like collective security, climate change, governance of the high seas and there will be a personal challenge as well. The Prime Minister of Tonga says he will ask his colleagues to lead the way on obesity by pledging to eat right and lose weight over the next year.

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, the Prime Minister of Tonga ‘Akilisi Pohiva, noted that previous discussions on obesity really hadn’t gotten anywhere. “We meet and talk and talk about this issue,” he said, “It doesn’t seem to work.”

So at this year’s summit, Prime Minister Pohiva plans to ask his fellow leaders to set an example.

“It’s not about who loses the most kilos,” he said, “but in order to shake off the weight, you must eat light and having that healthy mentality will go a long way.”

According to the World Health Organization, 40 percent of Pacific Island adults meet the definition of obese – that’s 90 percent in Nauru. Samoa’s health minister attributed 80 percent of deaths there to obesity related diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and in Prime Minister Pohiva’s Tonga, life expectancy has fallen from 71 to 68 years.

Credit Peg93 / Wikimedia Commons

Much of the problem is blamed on the switch from traditional diets of fish and vegetables to fatty meats like lamb flaps and turkey tails, washed down with soda. About half of the forum’s membership has imposed taxes on sugary beverages, but Colin Tukuitonga, Director General of The Pacific Community, a public health group, told RNZ Pacific that small nations will have to gear up to fight lobbyists from the sugar industry, who he said had copied big tobacco’s old playbook.

“They trash the science, they discredit the evidence, they produce so-called alternative evidence,” he said, “and then they distract.”