Legislative Interventions to Prevent and Decrease Obesity in Pacific Island Countries (David Clarke and Tim McKenzie, Allen & Clarke, Policy and Regulatory Specialists Limited) Report prepared for WHO Western Pacific Regional Office
Obesity is a significant issue for Western Pacific nations. While awareness of the problem is widespread, responses to it vary, from extensive tax-funded health promotion programmes, to intermittent and occasional interventions. Nonetheless, the range of initiatives being tried across the region suggests that Western Pacific countries can use legislation to coordinate sustainable efforts aimed at improving the nutritional balance of their people’s diets. These efforts can feature a range of actions, including taxation, health promotion, increased physical activity and programmes in schools.Evaluating interventions for their obesity-prevention value in the Pacific is difficult owing to the variable local conditions. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that obesity prevention programmes throughout the world are in their early stages. It is crucial therefore, that individual countries think through the kinds of intervention that could work to counteract obesity in their populations, as well as the different barriers presented by their culture, tradition and their legal systems to the use of specific interventions. A host of local contextual issues must be considered in determining which interventions are appropriate, and whether these are such as to make legislation necessary.This report is intended as a resource to help countries work through these issues and assess which anti-obesity measures are likely to be most effective within their particular context. Summary of RecommendationsIn this report, we recommend, as appropriate to local conditions, the following:• The introduction of low-level, domestic ‘sin taxes’ to fund health promotion programmes, similar to the system introduced in French Polynesia.• Tax-funded health promotion foundations to coordinate health promotion activities, nutritional education, and promotion of physical activity.• WPRO monitoring of the French Polynesian commission on food pricing, to consider whether proactive government intervention in food pricing and supply is applicable to other Western Pacific nations• WPRO advice and assistance with the econometric analysis that will be necessary to design tax and price based mechanisms for obesity prevention• WPRO advice, informed by measures introduced in Ghana, to countries who wish to restrict particular products (such as fatty meats)• WPRO technical assistance to individual Pacific nations, to ensure that anti-obesity trade measures are consistent with PICTA and PACER• Integration of health and trade policy, as recommended in the joint report of the WHO and WTO from 2000• WPRO monitoring of the progress of simplified international food labelling initiatives• WPRO assistance to Pacific countries concerned about the impact of advertising on consumption of high-fat and high-sugar products• Programmes to promote healthy eating and physical exercise in schools.• Closer cooperation between WPRO and the Forum Secretariat to explore opportunities to develop regional anti-obesity initiatives within the context of the Pacific plan.