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Thursday, November 27, 1997 Published at 10:16 GMT


Fiji faces fat crisis

The island nations of the Pacific Ocean may seem like holiday paradises. But beneath the idyllic surface of life, serious health problems are developing.

Governments in the area have launched special programmes to educate people about nutrition following a dramatic rise in the incidence of diabetes and heart disease. BBC correspondent Michael Peschardt reports:

Heart disease and diabetes are literally killing the Pacific as obesity becomes the new scourge of the area. Tens of thousands of people look overfed, but are, in fact, often under-nourished.

[ image:  ]
At the Nandi medical centre on the island of Fiji, people queue to see the doctor. It's the same line every day. One of those attending the centre is Sitere, who is in her late thirties.

She is typical of the epidemic in the Pacific. Her heart is now checked every month because she's suffering from acute high blood pressure.

[ image: Sitere has high blood pressure]
Sitere has high blood pressure
Sitere describes her symptoms: "I get a headache, and then I feel dizzy. That's after a hard day's work that I feel that."

The problem is being caused by a profound change in local eating habits. Pacific islanders have traditionally eaten raw fish straight from the sea.

It may seem basic, but it's a far healthier diet than what has taken its place.

One of the reasons for the change in diet is that the Pacific islands are no longer self-sufficient. Instead, they've come to rely on shiploads of canned and processed food.

A fat-laden diet has now replaced fresh fruit and vegetables, with alarming results.

[ image: The traditional fish diet is disappearing]
The traditional fish diet is disappearing
Sieni Senitolo of the Fiji National Food and Nutrition Committee says: "We have malnutrition amongst the younger children, and we have also found an increasing trend towards obesity, particularly among women aged 35 and over."

At school, children are taught, by rote, some much-needed principles of diet and nutrition.

Sekpoe Wulaona, a local teacher, says: "I think that most of them are very lazy now in Fiji. Too lazy to plant, too lazy to look for food. They have enough money to buy their canned food."

About 50% of Fijians have now deserted their farms to move to urban areas in search of greater material wealth.

Fiji - which is one of the most fertile countries in the world - is now importing more than half of its food. Traditional farming skills are either forgotten or neglected.

The problem is not just confined to Fiji. The whole of the Pacific region is going down with a similar disease.

The smaller island nations, in particular, are facing a ruinous mix of too many people and far too little land.

In some islands, 90% of the protein consumed is now being imported. As a result, a vibrant, healthy lifestyle is disappearing fast, and modern living is bringing with it new problems.

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