Fiji’s Health Minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete is calling childhood obesity a “slow motion disaster”, and wants a concerted regional effort to combat the disease.
His remarks came during this week’s Pacific Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) Forum in Fiji, an inaugural event that brought together government leaders, academics and non-governmental organisations from across the Pacific.
The meeting was facilitated by the Pacific Community, whose Director-General, Colin Tukuitonga, believes the influence of foreign food marketing is partly to blame for children’s health problems.
“There’s so much influence that’s come in from the outside on what children get fed,” he said.
“What gets advertised at the moment most people would say does not constitute what experts would say is a healthy diet.”
Mr Tukuitonga believes that there is a great need to develop a coordinated regional solution to childhood obesity.
“You can’t have Tonga plug away themselves at trying to limit those images, because the images come in off the internet made in Australia, New Zealand, US and Canada,” he said.
“This is why collaboration is so important because a small island in the middle of the Pacific is not likely to have any impact at all.”
An increasing number of Pacific governments are looking to regulations to combat non-communicable diseases.
Most significantly, at least 12 Pacific countries have adopted a sugar sweetened beverages tax with others looking to do the same soon.
Daiana Buresova, Regional Coordinator at the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer in Fiji, was one of the participants at the ECHO meeting this week. The McCabe Centre, a Melbourne-based organisation, works with government lawyers across the Pacific to design effective health regulation.
Ms Buresova agrees that interference from industrial lobby groups is a constant problem when trying to tackle big health issues like childhood obesity.
“Industry interference is significant when it comes to government formulating policies or regulatory measures around these NCD risk factors,” she said.
“There’s been considerable push back from the industry here in the Pacific region.”
Ms Buresova believes that by sharing experiences and research between Pacific countries through networks like the Pacific ECHO Forum, governments can design more robust regulations based on sound science.
“There’s a lot to be gained from sharing experience,” she said. “There’s a great deal we can learn from each other.”