The Tonga are the fattest people in the world

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The Tonga are the fattest people in the world

Postby 100% » 19th January 2016, 03:02

Dear Zambia,

How mutton flaps are killing Tonga
By Katy Watson & Sarah Treanor
BBC News, Tonga

The Pacific island of Tonga is the most obese country in the world. Up to 40% of the population is thought to have diabetes and life expectancy is falling. One of the main causes is a cheap, fatty kind of meat - mutton flaps - imported from New Zealand.
With a stern expression crossing her face, 82-year-old Papiloa Bloomfield Foliaki almost leaps from her seat to show me something she says, will help me understand.
She comes back into the sitting room of her small hotel in Nuku A'Lofa, Tonga's capital, brandishing a large model of an ancient wooden boat.
"We Tongans rowed here, across thousands and thousands of miles of sea, in boats like these. Then we flipped them over and used the old boats as houses."
She frowns. "But, nobody wants Tongan houses any more, because something Western, something modern, people think is better, people associated Tongan style of homes with poverty.
"Just like with our food."

The traditional Tongan diet is fish, root vegetables and coconuts, as you might expect for a palm-fringed island in the middle of the Pacific.
But at some point in the middle of the 20th Century, offcuts of meat began arriving in the Pacific islands - including turkey tails from the US and mutton flaps from New Zealand.

They were cheap and became hugely popular.
"People think something imported is superior," says Foliaki, a former nurse, activist and politician, who now works in the hotel business despite being one of few Tongans over the age of 80.
"And you have a situation where fisherman spear their fish - sell it - and go and buy mutton flaps. People don't have the education to know what is bad for their health."

The low-quality end of a sheep's rib - connected to the high-quality ribs and spare ribs - also known as breast
Every 100g includes approximately 40g fat (half of it saturated fat) and contains 420 calories
Flaps make up 9-12% of a sheep's carcass by weight, but only 3-5 % by value
In the Pacific, they are sometimes the only cut of the animal found on sale
New Zealand and Australia sell large quantities of mutton flaps to China, Mexico, and African countries
In Europe they are used in doner kebabs
Source: Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington, authors of Flap Food Nations in the Pacific Islands
In 1973, 7% of the population were suffering from non-communicable disease - a phrase that has come to be used as synonymous with diabetes in Tonga. By 2004 the figure was 18%. It is now 34% according to the Tongan Health Ministry, though some think the figure could be as high as 40%.
"There's this whole generation in Tonga that was brought up on mutton flaps," says Sunia Soakai, a health planning officer for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
"Mutton flaps are the discarded parts of the lamb that are not fit for consumption in New Zealand. They were able to dump this stuff on the Pacific countries."
Tongan fishermen still catch fish by spear, mostly at night, returning well before dawn.
Customers who want the best of the catch come down to meet them off the boat. Others can turn up at the little fish market in the port's car park later in the morning.
But when I visited, there were few customers. Hand-speared fish is not cheap, and it's only foreign boats that trawl with nets, for a catch that is immediately exported. Some of the hand-caught fish is also sent abroad - there is demand in Hawaii for Tongan speared snapper.

But even here at the fish market the smell of barbecued meat wafts across the car park. About 50m away, dozens of spits are rotating half-chickens and mutton flaps - from a distance the flaps looks like slabs of unsliced bacon, more fat than meat. The singing fat gives off a powerful, pungent odour.
According to Soakai, it's not unusual for a Tongan to eat 1kg of mutton flaps in one sitting. He did so himself in days gone by.
"Over the years, I got quite big, I probably tipped the scales at 170kg (375lb, 26st 11lb)," he says.
But Soakai eventually changed his ways and shed about 70kg - for three reasons.
"I have a five-year-old son," he explains. "If I continued my lifestyle I would orphan my son. The second trigger was that I work in the health sector; it became an issue of credibility. And the third - I was diagnosed with diabetes."
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