FAT – Missing From The SIDS Agenda

As Small Island Developing States (SIDS) representatives meet this week in Seychelles to prepare for the small island summit to be held in Samoa next year, I propose they focus on FAT. FAT?? Yes, you heard right. FAT. And its missing from the agenda!!

SIDS hold some of the fattest people on the planet and that alone is threatening their sustainability. SIDS have topped the fat charts for some time – the 5 most overweight nations have been SIDS. A new study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)  reveals this is still the case. The world’s fattest nation, Nauru boasts a 71.1 % obesity rate. Latest data shows that almost 74% of women and about 64% of men in Seychelles are overweight with more than 25% of the adult population being obese. Yet, the FAO representative who made a presentation this week at the preparatory meeting in Seychelles did not once mention his own organisation’s report as related to obesity in SIDS.

The problem has become hugely alarming (pardon the pun). In May this year, Pacific health experts called for a quota on the amount of fatty food exported to the Pacific Islands because heart disease, diabetes and obesity leading to limb amputations have become the norm. Some Pacific countries had tried to ban fatty imports but were stopped by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. Two years ago in The People newspaper I suggested that Seychelles adopt a “ fat tax” or what I termed a “samoosa tax”.

Research in Seychelles and elsewhere demonstrate that obesity is associated with a high incidence of diabetes Type 2. In most overweight populations the risks of getting some other non-communicable diseases increases are also very high and include hypertension, disabling degenerative disease of the joints and some cancers.

Where does sustainability come in? Low work productivity has been flagged as a barrier to improving our economy. Overweight workers are one of the root causes. Research conducted elsewhere has shown that obese workers take more days off than those with normal weight. But a recent study reveals that obesity’s hidden costs stem from the fact that obese people tend to be less productive than normal-weight people while at work.

The financial costs of obesity to the government health service, to companies and to the economy in general are huge. Sicker people mean more expenses. Health care costs for obese employees in the US are 77% higher than those for employees of healthy weight. But loss of productivity due to obesity can cost a nation as much – up to US$73.1 billion annually among full-time workers in the US. Added to that are the costs of treating people who cannot work because of obesity-related diseases.

The prospect of having a healthy population in the future looks bleak because the rate of obesity in Seychellois school children is higher than in adults – over 30%. So much so that the Seychelles Ministry of Health working with the Ministry of Education has had to launch a campaign which is titled “Promoting Healthy Weight…A Major Future Investment” which targets this problem. Childhood obesity is associated with a higher chance of obesity, premature death and disability in adulthood. Obese children may experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, and psychological effects.

Scarce resources are being diverted to help people who consciously choose unhealthy lifestyles. The economies of small island states would be far more efficient if they did not have to deal with the many consequences of an overweight population. In fact, the minority which has a healthy lifestyle is being penalized as it also has to foot the tax bill for the overweight majority. SIDS have to trim their fat to become sustainable – there’s no choice really. Obesity is the real-life elephant in the room – but it seems SIDS policy makers and their international partners are studiously ignoring its presence!

Adapted from Gaia, the author’s column in The People newspaper, 19/7/2013


Author: Dr. Nirmal Shah

Nirmal is a well-known and a passionate personality in the Seychelles environmental and sustainability scene having an encyclopedic knowledge of Seychelles biodiversity as well as a wealth of experience in environment management. He has worked in senior positions in the parastatal, government, private and NGO sectors and consulted for international organizations such as the World Bank, IUCN, UNEP, Sida and UNESCO. He has appeared on CNN, BBC, Radio France, PBS, NBC, ABC, SABC and others

One thought on “FAT – Missing From The SIDS Agenda”

  1. Would you please publish a link to the article you mention in the last line? I unfortunately can't find it myself.Intersting aspect by the way! i didn't know that SIDS also have a problem with overweight and obesity.


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