Nutritional Transition

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Many Pacific Islanders have moved to a more Western diet consisting of fast foods and processed foods, and as a result the incidence of both obesity and diabetes have soared. Pacific Islanders now rely on imported foods that are highly processed, such as white flour, white sugar, canned meat and fish, margarine, mayonnaise, carbonated beverages, candies, cookies, and breakfast cereals. Many locals sell their fruits and vegetables and then in turn purchase imported foods. On many islands, 80 to 90 percent of the foods are now imported. Imported rice is becoming the staple food in some areas, instead of locally grown provisions, and the ability to purchase imported foods is now a status symbol. Agricultural production also plays a role in the dietary transition. Local fruits and vegetables are increasingly less available due to population growth, urbanization, exporting of produce, and selling produce to hotels for the tourism industry. Traditional methods of hunting and gathering wild food, farming, processing, storing, and preserving traditional foods have all but disappeared in some areas.

Even though the health focus has been on the increase in obesity and diabetes, a different problem has occurred in Fiji. A dramatic increase in disordered eating among teenage girls has been observed in this nation, beginning with the introduction of television in 1995. In 1998 a researcher on Fiji reported that:

  • 74 percent of girls reported feeling "too big or fat" at least sometimes.
  • Of those who watched television at least three nights per week, 50 percent perceived themselves as too fat and 30 percent were more likely to diet.
  • 62 percent reported dieting in the previous month, a comparable or higher proportion than reported in U.S. samples.

processed food: food that has been cooked, milled, or otherwise manipulated to change its quality incidence: number of new cases reported each year

Many health professionals in the Pacific Islands, especially Hawaii, are now emphasizing eating traditional foods and encouraging residents to get back to a healthy lifestyle and to their cultural roots. Programs may now need to be developed to target eating disorders and disturbances.

The natural beauty of the Pacific Islands makes them popular destinations for ecotourists, and food-borne and water-borne diseases are the number one cause of illness among travelers. Visitors are therefore advised to wash their hands often and to drink only bottled or boiled water or carbonated drinks in cans or bottles. They also should avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. see also Asians, Diet of; Diabetes Mellitus; Dietary Trends, International; Obesity; Pacific Islander Americans, Diet of.

Delores C. S. James


Becker, A.; Burwell, R.; Navara, K.; and Gilman, S. (2003). "Binge Eating and Binge-Eating Disorder in a Small-Scale, Indigenous Society: The View From Fiji." International Journal of Eating Disorders 34(4):423-432.

Kittler, P. G., and Sucher, K. P. (2001). Food and Culture, 3rd edition. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth.

Internet Resources

Union College. "Fiji: A Digital Ethnography." Available from <>

U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division. "The Status and Trends of the Nation's Biological Resources: Hawaii and the Pacific Islands." Available from <>

tuberculosis: bacterial infection, usually of the lungs, caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis diphtheria: infectious disease caused by Cornybacterium diphtheriae, causing damage to the heart and other organs pasteurization: heating to destroy bacteria and other microorganisms, after Louis Pasteur

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