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Assessing sustainable food systems and diets in the Pacific

Paul Eme and Dr Kundhavi Kadiresan, assistant director-general and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations regional representative for Asia and the Pacific.

Paul Eme giving his presentation in Thailand.

College of Health PhD student Paul Eme has recently returned from speaking at the High Level Regional Nutrition Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems and Healthy Diets in Thailand.

Mr Eme, who is from the Igbo Indigenous Communities of Abia State in Nigeria, is studying on the Wellington campus. His thesis entitled “Assessment of Sustainable Food Systems and Sustainable Diets in the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS)”, focuses on Fiji, Kiribati, Sāmoa, Tokelau and Tonga.

He was invited to Bangkok to present by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

The 31-year-old gave a TED Talk-style presentation, focusing on the current food and nutrition security challenges of the PSIDS which include urbanisation, high level of importation of processed and convenient foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat; and inability for communities to engage in small scale agricultural production due to deficit in cultivable lands.

“I also presented some of my preliminary results from a survey I conducted for Caritas New Zealand in South Tarawa, Kiribati. The sample size of the study was 161 households. Some of the results showed that more than 60 per cent of people had very low dietary diversity, consuming less than four food groups in the preceding 24 hour dietary recall; excess intake of sodium, above 500 per cent of the recommended intake; and less than 60 per cent of the recommended intake for vitamin A, vitamin B1, iron and calcium. On the basis of body mass index, seventy-seven per cent of the subjects were considered obese, and 22 per cent were overweight. More than 90 per cent had high body fat readings, according to bioelectrical impedance [a commonly used method for estimating body fat composition],” he says.

His principal supervisor, Professor Barbara Burlingame, who gave an invited presentation on biodiversity for food and nutrition in PSIDS, says his research will inform a number of regional and international agencies on current food security and nutrition challenges of PSIDS and also guide the development of policies and projects on sustainable diets for the region for 2018-2021.

You can watch a YouTube video of Mr Eme’s presentation here.

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