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More than 85% of population is overweight or obese

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Jan. 26, 2010) - Statistics about obesity in Samoa are alarming and the Ministry of Health is moving to tackle the problem.

For example, according to the STEPs survey done in 2002, some 85.2 per cent of the population is obese.

Christine Quested, Principal Nutritionist with the Ministry of Health (MOH), said the STEPS survey of chronic disease was most relevant to date.

The survey showed 81.1 per cent of men are obese or overweight and 89.8 per cent of women are obese or overweight.

It means two out of three women between 25-64 years are obese or overweight.

Only 9.9 percent of females fit the normal weight category and 18.7 percent of men.

The STEPS survey showed none of the population is underweight.

Ms Quested said health officials are working on ways to lower the percentage of obese and overweight among the population

A big part of the effort is the national Non-communicable Diseases (NCD) Policy, which is being finalized.

"This policy will further guide the MOH and health sector partners in efforts to reduce NCDs, which includes obesity," she said.

Late last year, MOH facilitated the establishment of the Parliamentary Health Advocacy Group. They target health issues, such as obesity.

MOH has also founded numerous programmes which address diet and exercise habits.

Ms Quested said the Ministry of Health does not recommend a diet of mutton flaps despite a study which showed mutton flaps are safe.

"Lamp flaps are high in fat and eating too much fat and fatty food can cause weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers," she said.

"We recommend that people reduce the amount of lamp flaps being eaten."

Lamb flaps, however, are not the only source of fatty food in Samoa.

Turkey tails top the fat content chart with 32 grams of fat per 100 grams. Lamb flaps follow closely with 27.4 grams of fat per 100 grams.

Common daily foods such as Mackerel canned in oil contain 12 grams of fat per 100 grams served and Samoan banana chips have a high 32.6 grams of fat per 100 grams.

"In a healthy diet, fatty foods do not need to be avoided completely, but they should be eaten in moderation," said Ms. Quested.

Lamb flaps contain not only the fat that people can see, but also ‘hidden fat’ inside the meat.

"It is possible to reduce the fat content of the meat by trimming off the visible fat, but the hidden fat will remain inside," she said.

"Grilling or boiling the meat also helps reduce the fat content; some of the fat will come out of the meat when it is cooked, when boiling the meat for soup the fat comes out into the water should be removed before the food is eaten."

Ms. Quested urges the public to eat more vegetables and grow food at home.

"Vegetables are relatively cheap compared with meat so if they are added to soups and stews they will increase the bulk of food and people will feel fuller.

"If people are eating a lot of meat, as some people in Samoa often do, then replacing some of the meat with vegetables will also reduce the cost of the meal.

"(Growing food from home) not only reduce costs, it ensures food is fresh. Such as lau pele, sweet potato tips (Lau umala), pumpkin tips (tumutumu maukeni), and creeping spinach (pasela).

When it comes to price, lamb flaps are not favorable. They sell in Samoa for just under 5 tala [US$2] a pound.

"Use cheaper cuts of meat," said Ms. Quested. "A small survey from some local supermarkets showed that chicken, fish and canned fish were all cheaper than lamb flaps and other cuts of lamb.

Food standards are also in the pipeline for the MOH and other stakeholders such as the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (MCIL) and the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries (MAF).

"These will ensure that good quality food is sold in Samoa.

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