The people of the South Pacific are now the fattest in the world
Islanders who once criss-crossed the world's largest ocean are now barely able to fit into their canoes, let alone paddle them vast distances.
A new survey has found that of the top 10 most corpulent countries on the planet, eight are in the South Pacific, including holiday destinations such as Samoa and the Cook Islands.
The survey, The World's Fattest Countries, by the Forbes organisation, shatters the romantic image of slim-hipped island maidens and muscular warriors, presenting instead a picture of a paradise lost.
A traditional diet of fish, vegetables and coconuts has been replaced by tinned meat, junk food, high-fat snacks and notorious "mutton flaps", fatty off-cuts from sheep which islanders relish when fried. Imported from New Zealand, they are so unhealthy that they were banned by Fiji.
Where once Pacific peoples ate reef fish and yams, they now gorge themselves on corned beef and "turkey tails" — cheap, highly fatty pieces of skin imported from the United States.
The change in diet has been exacerbated by a drift towards towns, lack of exercise and, in some cases, a cultural belief that physical bulk is a sign of beauty and wealth.
It has led to dramatically increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. More and more people are going the way of the late King of Tonga, who until his death last year was listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's heaviest monarch, weighing in at 33 stone.
The Forbes survey found that the tiny island republic of Nauru has the portliest population in the world.
A sun-baked rock that once grew rich on its phosphate reserves, nearly 95 per cent of its 13,000 people are overweight, based on information supplied by the World Health Organisation.
The micro-nation is struggling with a diabetes epidemic which is affecting a third of its adults. The next bulkiest people are to be found in the Federated States of Micronesia, then the Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, Samoa and Palau.
Kuwait, at number eight, is an exception to the South Pacific rule, as is the United States, in ninth place, where 74 per cent of adults are considered overweight.
"Many Pacific islands are not conducive to increasing levels of physical activity — there are not enough sporting facilities and in some cases there are not even places where you can swim," said Jenny MacKenzie, a healthy living consultant with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
Genetics also plays a part — Tongans, for instance, are believed to be predisposed to weight gain and are poorly equipped to deal with processed food.
The WHO defines an overweight person as someone with an individual body mass index (weight relative to height) greater than or equal to 25. Obese is defined as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30.
There are currently 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world. The WHO predicts that number will grow by 40 per cent in the next decade.
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