Fiji calls for a national transformation on food systems and nutrition

16 February 2024
Inara Bale, a 13-year-old student from Stella Maris Primary School, stands in front of her exhibition, explaining to UNICEF Pacific Representative Jonathan Veitch and Acting Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Civil Service and Public Enterprises, Parmesh Chand, her understanding of various types of nutrition in her daily life.
UNICEFPacific/2024/Wong
Inara Bale, a 13-year-old student from Stella Maris Primary School, stands in front of her exhibition, explaining to UNICEF Pacific Representative Jonathan Veitch and Acting Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Civil Service and Public Enterprises, Parmesh Chand, her understanding of various types of nutrition in her daily life.

SUVA, FIJI 16 February 2024 – Fiji’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), together with UNICEF, is calling for the vital need to strengthen the multisectoral action to combat the triple burden of malnutrition facing the country – the co-existence of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies as well as overweight and obesity.

“A huge impediment to the health and wellbeing of the people in Fiji are non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” said the Minister for Health and Medical Services, Honourable Dr. Ratu Atonio Rabici Lalabalavu.

“Currently NCDs such as diabetes and obesity-related illnesses are the leading causes of death and disability in Fiji with health care costs recorded at $591million in 2019.”

“Good nutrition is a critical preventive factor for NCDs,” he added.

Not only does malnutrition decrease a child’s chances of surviving, but it also prevents children from thriving: it prevents growth of both the body and the brain, it interferes with learning at school, it reduces economic productivity, and it increases the severity as well as the frequency of illness.  While noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have become the biggest killer in Fiji, childhood overweight and obesity as well as stunting in early childhood increase risks for adult obesity and NCDs.

“The Fiji 2021 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey revealed that less than half of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed. The survey also showed unhealthy dietary practices in older children, adolescents, and adults, marked by low consumption of nutritious foods and high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages – all key risk factors for non-communicable diseases,” said UNICEF Pacific’s Representative, Jonathan Veitch.

“In fact, one third of children between the ages of 5-19 in Fiji are overweight.”

This called for a need to better understand the complex interplay of individual, social, and food environment factors on the dietary behaviours of pregnant/lactating mothers, children, and adolescents. MHMS and UNICEF, in collaboration with other line ministries and partners in Fiji, embarked on the Food Systems and Nutrition Study. 

The Study findings presented today highlight the lack of healthier food options in and around schools, various barriers to nutritional practices including affordability, despite the knowledge, unhealthy food and beverages dominating advertisement in peak viewership hours, as well as the price and convenience as important factors of individual dietary practices, amongst others.  

Addressing them requires strengthening the policies and regulations to create healthier food environments with improved access to healthy foods; and enhancing service delivery for nutrition across sectors and platforms, including at community level.

This calls for multisectoral efforts and multi-system engagement – whole of society and whole of government approach.

The Fiji MHMS and UNICEF are working together with various national sectors to promote and support healthy lifestyle from the legislative to the grassroot community level. This includes through promotion of positive environment for breastfeeding mothers, controlled marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods, as well as diving into community and school focused campaigns for healthy eating amongst other activities.

Notes to Editors:

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Photo credit:
© UNICEF Pacific/2023/Wong

 

About the Fijian Ministry of Health and Medical Services:
The Fijian Ministry of Health and Medical Services remains firmly committed to maintain a high standard of efficient, equitable, accessible and affordable health care service delivery to all Fijians through maintaining the Universal Health Coverage by leaving no one behind.

 

For more information, please contact:
Melaia Katonivualiku, Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services, mela.tuilevuka@gmail.com
Zubnah Khan, UNICEF Pacific, Tel: +679 9988137, zukhan@unicef.org

Media contacts

Zubnah Khan
Communication Officer
UNICEF Pacific
Tel: +679 330 0439 Ext. 175
Tel: 9988137

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