Health in Tonga


Joseph Ferris III, via Flickr

Marina Santee and Mike Proctor look at a growing problem on the Pacific island country of Tonga - obesity. What can be done to improve this problem?

Transcript


Voice 1

Hello. I’m Marina Santee.

Voice 2

And I’m Mike Procter. Welcome to Spotlight. This programme uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

It is a beautiful day. The ocean is a clear blue. The sand is white. The air is warm. This is the Pacific island country of Tonga. Young men stand near huge fires. They are cooking suckling pigs over the fire. Suckling pigs are young pigs with very tasty meat. And these men are cooking many of them. The men are preparing food for a week of local celebrations. This week, many people will eat much food.

Tonga is a beautiful country, but it has a health problem. Many of the people weigh too much. And it is all to do with what they eat. In today’s Spotlight we tell about the problems of being overweight and obese.

Voice 2

Stephen Gates is a food writer. He went to Tonga to report on the health situation for the BBC. He investigated the weight of people over the age of thirty [30]. He discovered that over ninety [90] percent of them are obese. Obesity means that someone weighs so much that their health is in danger. They are at risk from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Voice 1

In Tonga, celebrations like the one with the cooked pigs may cause people to gain a lot of weight. But Tongans eat such food only at special times. However, the food that they eat the rest of the time is also a big problem. They usually eat imported foods. And much of the imported food they eat is not healthy. It is fatty and sugary. These foods have caused people to gain an unhealthy amount of weight - and become obese.

Voice 2

But why are the people eating imported foods? Tonga is in the southwest Pacific Ocean. All around is sea, sea, and more sea. This is home to millions of fish! But the Tongans have over-fished in their own coastal waters. In the past, Tongans depended on fish as the main part of their diet. Now the number of fish in the waters close to Tonga is decreasing. There are still plenty of fish further out to sea, in deeper waters. But foreign fishermen take most of these. The Tongans receive very little money from this fishing industry.

Voice 1

As Tongans catch less fish, the price of fish increases in Tonga. This is why Tongans have come to depend on imported food. But the foods they eat most are high in fat and sugar. These foods usually cost less than higher quality foods. So, fatty foods have become a part of the Tongan diet. For example many Tongans eat corned beef almost every day. They also buy large amounts of sweet, sugary foods and drinks. This new diet is causing health problems. Experts say that almost twenty [20] percent of adults in Tonga suffer from diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot control the amount of sugar in the blood. Diabetes can lead to serious health problems such as blindness and kidney failure.

Voice 2

Tongans are not getting enough exercise either. Modern living is not so demanding physically. People are not burning the fuel they eat. And scientists say that Pacific Island people have “the thrift gene”. A person with the thrift gene stores more fat than other people. The scientists say that long ago, the ability to store fat would have helped people survive the times when food was in short supply. They say that this ability has been passed down to some people today. They say that Tongans are among the people who have it. Something in their genes makes it easy for them to gain weight.

Voice 1

The Royal family in Tonga is concerned about obesity in their country. King Taufa’ahau Toupou the fourth ruled Tonga for forty-one [41] years. He had a problem with his weight too. At one time he weighed over two hundred [200] kilograms. He was so large that he had difficulty walking up steps. And he slept badly at night. He decided he needed to do something about this situation. So, he changed his diet completely. He ate healthy foods. And he started exercising. Over time he lost more than one third of his body weight. He felt better. He could climb steps. He could sleep.

Voice 2

King Toupou also wanted his people to learn about health problems. So an official from each village in Tonga went to the capital city. Here, they learned more about healthy living. The officials then returned to their villages to teach people the new information. There were national competitions on radio and television. People could win prizes for losing weight. The winners lost over twenty-five [25] kilogrammes each.

Voice 1

King Toupou died in 2006. But he left a good example for his people. He showed them how to improve their health through the success of his fitness programme. Today, other famous Tongans are getting involved in helping their countrymen too. Princess Fane has started an exercise class called Boxercise. And the Tonga Australian Football Association is involved with the Ma Alahi Project. This project targets high school students. Its goal is to show them how to lead healthier lives.

Voice 2

Tonga also works with other countries in an effort to fight this international health problem. It joined a project called OPIC - “Obesity Prevention in Communities”. OPIC is a research agreement between four countries - Tonga, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. One OPIC project looked at school children. It encouraged them to eat a healthy breakfast before school instead of sweet foods later in the morning. It suggested that children drink water instead of sugary drinks. And it encouraged schools to provide better food and more exercise for the children.

Voice 1

Tongans still have a long way to go to improve their health. But reports show that they have a good understanding of the changes they need to make. Projects like O P I C, OPIC, and Ma Alahi can help young people to make good decisions about the food they eat. And more and more Tongans are getting involved in fighting this problem.

Voice 2

Obesity is a problem in many countries - both rich and poor. In Britain, the BBC made a television series “Fat Nation - the Big Challenge”. The answers to the problems are the same in Britain as in Tonga. Vegetables and fish are better than fatty foods. Fruit is better than sweets and candy. And everyone needs exercise. But education is the key. Knowing how to stay healthy is half the battle.

Voice 1

The writers of today’s programme were Rachel Hobson and Mike Procter. The producer was Marina Santee. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom. You can find links to websites about healthy eating on our website at http://www.radio.english.net. Look for the script page of this programme. It is called ‘Health in Tonga’.

If you would like more resources on healthy eating, you can visit these websites:
www.bbc.co.uk/health/healthy_living
www.safefoodonline.com
www.eatwell.gov.uk/healthydiet
Spotlight is not responsible for the content of exterior websites.

Comments


Dzung.vn's avatar
Dzung.vn
said on February 02, 2013

Obesity is a problem in many countries-both rich and poor. That is a judge quite right! And I agree with this judgement. Nowadays, there are a lot of parents in Vietnam who force their children to eat so much. Even, the children only from one year to two years old. If they do not eat, they will be spanked. Consequently, there are some children at the age of six years old but look them as a child at eight years old. I think that if they had knew about the problems of being overweight and obese lead to serious health problems such as blindness and kidney failure, they have not acted like that.