Fight against diabetes begins at church schools

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The Anglican Church of Melanesia Education Authority will vote next month on proposed ban on the sale and consumption of high sugar and processed foods in church run schools. The Solomon Islands has one of the highest rates of diabetes mellitus in the world, and church leaders believe addressing the environmental factors driving the non-communicable disease will help lower its prevalence amongst future generations.

A study performed by researchers at the University of Washington calculating Years of Lost Life (YLL), a health care metric that quantifies premature death, found that in 1990 diabetes was ranked ninth amongst causes of death, accounting for 3.2 per cent of deaths and a YLL of 4. By 2010 diabetes had risen to first place amongst causes of death, accounting for 7 per cent of deaths and an YLL of 11.  Studies released by the World Health Organization report the incident of the diseases in the Pacific nation continues to rise and and accounted for 8.83 per cent of all fatalities in 2017, while the government’s health ministry claims diabetes and its related conditions were responsible for over 50 percent of hospital admissions.

A 2003 article published in the British Medical Journal reported that diabetes was virtually non-existent in populations indigenous to the Pacific maintaining a traditional lifestyle. However the disease was found to be widespread among the urbanized Pacific population across Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.  Rapid changes in lifestyle and risk factors such as obesity, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity have become widespread throughout the region, while health education programs have historically focused on health promotion rather than health protection. Pharmacological interventions common in Western societies to combat diabetes are often unavailable or prohibitively expensive in the Solomon Islands.

The churches 31 schools and training institutes do not provide meals for students, but allow market vendors to set up stalls outside the school to sell prepared meals and soft drinks. Other students bring their meals from home.

The proposal set for vote on 21 June 2019 at the church’s headquarters in Honaria on the island of Guadalcanal would ban vendors from school premises and launch a health education campaign to educate families on the consequences of a “fast-food” diet on their health of their children.