SEATTLE — The Federal States of Micronesia is a small nation in the Pacific that is made up of around 600 islands. While the nation is considered quite poor in a global context, hunger in Micronesia has never been a major issue. At the United Nations World Food Summit in 1996, Micronesian leaders indicated that while most of Micronesia lives a hunger-free lifestyle, malnutrition has become an issue due to the amount of imported food consumed by the country’s residents.
At the World Food Summit, the nation pledged its commitment to eradicating hunger around the world; it was only able to do this because hunger in Micronesia was not an issue. That being said, the nation has had to do a lot of work to wean its population off its reliance on imported food. This issue began when many Pacific Islanders strayed from their traditional diet and became dependent on imported food, leading to high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
While there is a fair amount of education about healthy eating in Micronesian schools, the government has had a hard time actually changing the behavior of its people. Only 16 percent of the Micronesian population is over age 55, indicating that the age at which people are developing and dying from cardiovascular diseases is dropping. This is a major threat to the population, and in 2010, at the Pacific Food Summit, the Micronesian government expressed a need to regulate the food industry in the country.
The government did this in a couple ways. Starting in 1996, the government indicated that it would place heavy taxes on imported foods, hoping to deter its population from consuming so many processed, high-calorie items. Additionally, it put in place educational reforms that would make nutrition a subject in public schools. In 2010, the government indicated that another issue they could fix was unclear labeling on food packaging. The largest portion of Micronesia’s food imports come from countries like China, Malaysia and the Philippines. Food coming into the country is often unstandardized and labeled in foreign languages, causing a problem for the English-speaking population.
Increased regulations on imported foods should help the poor dietary health of the Micronesian people, but there is no guarantee that this will actually stop people from consuming non-nutritious foods. The government should put in place a very comprehensive plan that will change the culture of Micronesian food consumption from its roots. This could include earlier assessments of being overweight and at risk for disease, which would hopefully put pressure on parents to feed their children nutritious foods. Additionally, the education programs in schools should be expanded, and healthier foods should be made more affordable and accessible for the population.
With all of these reforms, Micronesia will hopefully be able to improve the health of its population significantly, as well as make future generations more health-conscious. While this is a challenging task, the government seems dedicated to solving the issue of malnutrition and the nation should see positive growth moving forward.
– Liyanga De Silva