Projects Abroad works towards a healthier Samoa with launch of Nutrition project
This month, Projects Abroad launched a Nutrition project in Samoa, with the aim of encouraging health and fitness among the Samoan people. The Nutrition project will build on the work Projects Abroad Samoa has been doing since 2012, with an increased focus on improving the health and well-being of local communities.
A 2014 Global Status Report by the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Samoa as the fifth most obese country in the world. Alarmingly, over 70% of the Samoan population is overweight, with 40% of the population considered obese. Due to limited arable land, processed foods have become the staple diet of many Samoans, resulting in poor nutrition and high levels of obesity. Additionally, there is a cultural association between large body size and wealth, meaning Samoans will have to change more than just their diet in order to combat the nation’s obesity problem.
But change is possible, and Samoans are starting to take steps towards a healthier future. In February this year, a programme was launched by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle to schoolchildren in Years 1-8. The initiative, NOBESITY, has targeted children in urban areas, as they are more likely to suffer from obesity.
Projects Abroad hopes to complement this programme by working alongside the Samoa National Health Service (NHS) and local schools and communities, to provide Samoans with the tools and information to start creating a healthier life for themselves.
The project launched with a fitness session, short surveys on daily nutrition and health checks for the local villagers of Aele. The Samoan Observer called it “an amazing experience” for both the villagers and volunteers.
Anna Benton, an Australian volunteer, said, “A woman pointed to the noodles and told me she eats them twice a day… she was so thankful for telling her that they are not as healthy as she thought.”
Volunteers on this project will assist the NHS with outreach programmes in three hospitals and three health clinics in Upolu, the most populated of the Samoan Islands. They will help to create diet and exercise plans for locals, organise local fitness events and demonstrate how to grow vegetables and cook healthy meals.
They will also visit local schools to provide health check-ups for teachers and guide them with nutrition lessons, as well as assist with the NHS school canteen programme. Additionally, volunteers will work with local schools, churches and youth groups to raise awareness about the importance of healthy living.
Cutting down on obesity will significantly lower the risk of non-communicable diseases. According to the WHO, “The greatest health threat to Samoa is the ongoing increase in non-communicable diseases brought on by obesity, inactivity and diets rich in fat, salt and sugar.” In 2014, there were 7,000 cases of diabetes in Samoa, and it has been recorded as a leading cause of death in the country since 2005.
Projects Abroad has been encouraged by the positive response to the new project from the locals, with many people taking part in fitness sessions and asking questions about the programme.
Through education and community outreach, Projects Abroad believes that together with the NHS, we can play an important role in promoting a healthier lifestyle for the Samoan people. As Projects Abroad Samoa Country Director, Katy Woolley, says, ‘We are very lucky and fortunate to be able to work in partnership with the National Health Services… our motivation and heart is to be able to educate people about the benefits of good health and nutrition.”