Health and Sports Ministries Push Healthy Lifestyles For Tongans

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High risk of disease prevalent in Tongan population

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 18, 2012) – Recognizing a health crisis that is reducing the life expectancy of both men and women in Tonga, the Ministry of Health has partnered with the Ministry of Sports and Tonga's Netball Association in a new program that aims to encourage healthier and more active lifestyles for people of all ages.

They are targeting the physical inactivity seen among women and girls and to encourage women of all ages to become more active through netball.

The Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Ministry of Training, Employment, Youth and Sports (MOTEYS) and the Tonga Netball Association (TNA) through a joint initiative between the governments of Australia and Tonga hope that the program will help change attitudes toward lifestyle diseases and create more awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

The "Kau Mai Tonga Ke Tau Netipolo", the first program in Tonga designed to use sport as a vehicle for health will be launched on June 20, at Queen Salote Memorial Hall.

The program will run until August 11, with community engagement programs to be held throughout Tongatapu culminating in a 1 day tournament for Tongatapu on July 21, Vava'u July 28, Ha'apai on August 4 and 'Eua on the 11th of August.

Registration of the tournament starts on Wednesday and teams will be given Netball toolkits containing sports equipment.

Preventable

The Director of Health, Dr. Siale Akau'ola, said this morning that Tonga ranks as fourth in the world of most obese nations and that 92 percent of the Tongan population is overweight. Preventable lifestyle diseases due to diets high in fat, sugar and salt, as well as tobacco smoking and alcohol abuse had led to an increase in heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The Ministry of Health is concerned that these diseases, known as non-communicable disease (NCDs), or lifestyle disease, are killing and reducing the quality of life for too many Tongans.

"Four out of five deaths at the hospital are attributed to NCDs," he said. "The significance of NCDs is that is it is a major problem not only in Tonga but in the whole of the Pacific. Last year the Forum described it as a 'Pacific in Crisis'."

"The best form of attack on NCD is to change the knowledge attitude and behaviors of Tongan people toward NCD risk factors," he said.

The World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development indicated that in Tonga 75 percent of people who are overly obese are women as compared to only 56 percent of men.

Women

The Acting Director of MoTEYS, Viliami Liava'a said that Tongan Netball used to be one of the most popular sports in the 1970s and 1980s, but this was no longer the case. He hoped that the program would encourage schools to support the tournament and more people to get involved. The program would also outreach to church leaders to encourage community physical exercise.

"We are starting with the women because excessive weight has been more of a problem with women than men."

The President of the Tonga Netball Association Rev. Dr. 'Ungatea Kata said that the program also offered courses for certification of umpires and trainers and the certificates would be recognized in Australia.

"There will be three divisions for players: Under 18, Senior division and Golden Oldies," she said.

People can register for the program in Tongatapu, Vava'u Ha'apai and 'Eua through MoTEYS offices.

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