The Prime Minister of Tonga has challenged his fellow leaders of Pacific nations – which have the world's highest rates of obesity – to a year-long weight loss competition, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Lamenting the failure to curb rising obesity levels in the small island states, 'Akilisi Pohiva, a former teacher, said he would propose the competition to his counterparts at a meeting next week of the 18-member Pacific Island Forum.
"We should all get together for a weight loss competition; for an entire year, so when we meet the following year we will weigh in again and see who has lost the most," he told the Samoa Observer.
"It is not about who loses the most kilos but in order to shake off the weight, you must eat light and having that healthy mentality will go a long way."
According to data compiled by the CIA World Factbook, the 10 most obese countries in the world are all in the Pacific.
This includes Nauru, where 61 per cent of the adult population is obese, the Cook Islands, (56 per cent), Palau (55 per cent), the Marshall Islands (53 per cent), Tuvalu (52 per cent), Niue (50 per cent), and Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati and Federated States of Micronesia, which are all above 46 per cent. Next on the list are Kuwait (38 per cent) and the United States (36 per cent).
Globally, about 12 per cent of adults are obese.
The high rates of obesity in the Pacific have been credited to various causes, including poor diet and the replacement of traditional foods by imported and processed goods as well as a genetic disposition.
A study in 2016 found that almost half of the Samoan population had a gene that stores additional fat and increased their chances of being obese.
The high levels of obesity in the Pacific have led to a range of health problems, including increased rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Urging Pacific leaders to set an example for their citizens, Pohiva said life expectancy in Tonga had reduced from 71 to 68 years.
"The noncommunicable disease [rates] and child obesity has everything to do with our eating habits and our lifestyle and it is complex issue when it comes to our Pacific people," he said.
"And with Pacific island leaders, we meet and talk and talk about this issue, yet initiatives on this issue is not making an impact... We have been advocating the same issue over the years but it doesn't seem to work."