A new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) points to globalization and an increased dependence on imported foods for the deteriorating health of Pacific Islanders, who rank among the world’s fattest people based on a list compiled by Forbes in 2007. The lengthy report lists rapid urbanization—where populations are migrating out of rural agricultural communities into dense cities—as one reason for the change in traditional food production and consumption.
Residents of Pacific nations have largely replaced locally-produced island foods, such as fresh fish, meat, fruits, and vegetables with imported foods of poor nutritional quality such as rice, flour, sugar, and canned meats.
According to the ADB:
The World Health organisation recently reported that the Pacific population’s calorie consumption has been increasing, yet nutritional status has decreased, reflecting the change in diets from traditional fare to mainly imported, low-quality foods. This has unequivocally led to the deteriorating health status of Pacific islanders, whose rates of obesity, diabetes, and micronutrient deficiencies are among the highest in the world [emphasis added].
The 14 Pacific developing member countries (DMCs) of the ADB, which comprise over 7,500 islands scattered across 30 million square kilometers of the tropical Pacific Ocean, have a combined population of 10.1 million people. While the majority of Pacific islanders remain in rural areas, the urban population is expected to grow from roughly 2.5 million to 5 million by 2035, according to the report.
Compounding dangers to human health posed by population growth is the overarching threat of climate change-induced weather events and environmental hazards. These include more intense storms, sea-level rise, warmer air and water temperatures, and ocean acidification — all of which will have adverse impacts on the health and productivity of regional crops, livestock, fisheries, and water resources, in turn, bolstering the Pacific’s reliance on commercial markets for food supply.
You can read the full report, titled “Food Security and Climate Change in the Pacific: Rethinking the Options” (PDF) here.
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