American Samoa- Cultural fusion, dietary nightmare! Part 1. July 7, 2013 American Samoa, weight management 2 Comments American Samoa, where to even start with this one…WOW! As most of you know, I set out this year on a mission to see a country that really is struggling in regards to weight management and lifestyle diseases. American Samoa is a territory of the USA, but has the genetic pool predominantly of a polynesian country..as one can imagine, the fusion of cultures could be a recipe for disaster in regards to metabolic syndrome; including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, or strokes. Travelling Dietitian has made it to American Samoa According to some statistics I have found, the obesity rate in American Samoa is up at 74.6% which is well past the approximate 25-30% in the USA and Australia (who as we know are not doing so smoking hot either); and the diabetes rate is sky high, with 53.2% of men and 42.4% of women having type 2 diabetes! 80% of early deaths in the pacific have been found to be related to non communicable diseases, or as some like to call it, lifestyle diseases (including those mentioned above that when suffering from 2 or more of them are classified as metabolic syndrome). American Samoa – beautiful green areas around the island, travelling dietitian. Absolutely no amount of research could have prepared me for what I have experienced over the past 2 days (and I still have almost another week here, so who knows what more I will have to share!). I will do my very best to summarize what I have seen and been told so far (but honestly I won’t be able to fit it all into one post!)… Supermarkets, or as most of us would recognise them as, mini-marts / side stores, are filled with packaged refined carbohydrate based foods (biscuits, unhealthy cereals, crisps and crackers), along with cans upon cans upon cans of fish (tuna in oil and sardines predominantly), meat (spam and corned beef), vegetables (corn / peas / carrots ) and fruit (peaches in syrup). I am yet to see a single yoghurt in this country, meat is frozen and looks quite high in fat, and fresh produce is at an absolute bare minimum. canned food galore in American Samoa canned food galore Unhealthy cereals galore with claims about being rich sources of vitamins or minerals because they have been fortified The only fruits and vegetables they apparently produce on the island are taro (a starchy vegetable), beans, cabbage, carrots, coconut, and bananas. Anything else has to be shipped in from the USA or NZ. Fresh produce section in the supermarket…as you can see, tiny! They do a small amount of fishing here, and they have chickens and pigs on the island, but that’s it. Most of the food products on the shelves are from NZ or the USA, and a couple I have seen were from Australia or some other pacific islands; hardly any were produced here. The one export they have is canned tuna, however this brand is nowhere to be seen on their own shelves! Fortified cereals with nutrient claims Fortified cereal with vitamin D I have been appalled beyond belief at the health and nutritional claims being made on the products regarding the foods being nutritious or a great source of a particular vitamin (because it is a fortified but otherwise completely unhealthy food). Sadly, many of these products are coming from Australia or the USA, and they leave me feeling quite ashamed at the unethical nature of the food companies who are fuelling an obesity epidemic in a country that doesn’t have the same options as we do in regards to product availability. Freezer section filled with fatty meats in the supermarket in American Samoa Palm and soy bean oils are the predominant “vegetable” oils being used and sold (from the USA), which means my guess is that the soy bean oil is genetically modified, and the palm oil..well that’s just not a sustainably friendly product or a healthy one for anyone. Short grain high GI rice or potato is served alongside most mains (which are fried). Soy bean oil from the USA which is likely to be GM Soy bean oil from the USA which is likely to be GM The choices in the stores are beyond a bare minimum, imagine only peanuts by one brand, no other nuts, no other brands, same goes with almost every product..there is not only a lack of variety in the foods available, but there is a lack of variety in regards to which food categories are even offered. The whole fridge section in the supermarket, pretty much just soft drinks! Fatty meats in the supermarket There has not been a “balanced plate” in my eyes anywhere..with non-starchy vegetables being almost non existent, and most of the protein actually being a very fatty cut of meat, with hardly any lean protein there. Chop suey made with mutton and fried noodles, chicken that was covered in skin and fat throughout, taro made into a bread like product (starch), and 2 thin pieces of cucumber…not balanced! Being quite well travelled, and ALWAYS being able to find a healthy option no matter where I am, I have never felt quite as trapped as I have here. I actually have been rationing out my Quest nutrition, Goodness Superfoods, and Nutra Organics bars so that I at least have one healthy and filling snack (or sadly sometimes even consuming them as a meal replacement) per day. Rationing out my health bars from some of my favourite brands – Goodness Superfoods, Nutra Organics, and Quest Nutrition I went to a night market and the options were coconut cream covered taro, coconut cream covered rice, chicken curry with rice and rotti, coconut millk and fish based sweet drinks, and a range of other equally calorie dense options. I opted for the chicken curry with rice, and even then, most of the ‘chicken’ was actually skin or fatty cuts of the meat. Lets just say I looked like the girl who was picking at my food that night (which is definitely not usually the case)! Indian curry at the market..most portion controlled thing there..but definitely still high in calories Travelling dietitian at the food market in American Samoa Taro, banana or rice with coconut cream at the market in American Samoa More food being sold at the market More root vegetables, banana, taro, and coconut cream at the market Travelling dietitian surrounded be starchy vegetables The burgers, fried banana pancakes (which are actually donuts as we all know them) and other fried pastry style options definitely appear to be the most popular menu items, with lines literally out the door at each place I have seen these being sold. Banana pancake / donuts – eaten for breakfast, at dinner time, or any time really?! Banana Pancake, or Banana Donut as I would call it, being prepared in American Samoa. So popular here! I have picked up on quite a few things, but none more so than the culture..when you are surrounded by others who live a particular lifestyle, with your parents, friends and partners all eating in a manner, it is no surprise that it becomes the norm. I feel there is something to take from this.. I by no means want to be promoting eating disorders, but there is something to say about needing people from the health world to keep standing up and voicing the importance of a nutritious diet and a healthy weight. If absolutely no one is yelling this from the roof tops, then there is no reason why people would think there is anything wrong with their way of life..and therefore why would they feel any desire to make a change? Take home message 1 – Keep shouting from the roof tops, eat a nutritious diet in my home country! (and find as many others that will shout this message with me!) Take home message 2 (which I really wish will be taken on board by those reading this, or at least passed onto those you know if you already follow this mantra)- Whenever you feel upset that you cant find the particular brand of your favourite food product, but there is still a relatively comparable product there for you..do not complain, please be aware that there are people in other parts of the world that literally dont even get one option in a food category, let alone the one particular product that has 1g less of saturated fat, or 2g extra protein..you get my drift.. I have been told on multiple occasions from people I have spoken with, that they feel most of the locals are “lazy” (for the record, these are not my words), with most families eating out at dinner time or buying take away meals, and other meals or snacks consumed being made up of canned meat with crackers or bread, as this is “easy”. As you walk or drive around, you do notice a lot of people just sitting around..I myself being a city girl whole heartedly could not handle this way of life, however I do respect that some appreciate a slower more “relaxed” pace. Having said that, I would think that with time availability not being the issue here, that preparing home cooked meals (with whatever produce is available), or partaking in some form of physical activity, could be promoted and weaved into the culture a little more somehow.. There is definitely a shift in head space that needs to take place here, and concurrently a change in the food supply system.. Travelling dietitian finding traditional American Samoan food – octopus in coconut cream, cooked on a traditional umu (grill and steamer in one) Travelling dietitian finding traditional American Samoan food – Taro in coconut cream – so calorie dense. I have been told on multiple occasions throughout this trip about ‘turkey tails’ which are ridiculously fatty off cuts of meat (which are pretty much just saturated fat); They are sent from the USA and sold here for consumption. They were actually banned in Samoa (but not American Samoa) in 2007 due to the unethical manner of selling such an unhealthy product, however this year the ban has been lifted and they again are back on the market! I was told that whilst the ban was in place, people from Samoa were having them shipped across from American Samoa anyway…clearly both countries really want this fat laden product! I am yet to see it here..but I’m keeping my eyes open! I think this post has gone on a little long, and there is still so much for me to share with you, so I will post again soon. Hope you are all enlightened and learning something from this adventure as I am. Do let me know if you have particular questions you want answered or ideas you have that I can discuss with the locals and community health practitioners while I am here. I will continue to post photos on Facebook for those of you that want to connect with me over there too, For now, Eat well (on my behalf this week too please!) Travelling Dietitian x 2 Responses Kimberly Kirby Buchholz July 17, 2013 This is a sad state of affairs; however I appreciate your making this available to us on your blog. i had no idea such a public health crisis was brewing in American Samoa. Thank you… Log in to Reply Travelling Dietitian July 17, 2013 Thanks for your comment and support Kimberly, yes it is really quite sad what is going on over there. I will keep everyone posted as I hear more and will continue to share my ventures across the globe to inform everyone on what goes on among the different countries. Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.