Chicks, ducklings to help solve obesity?

Encouraging broiler and duck production may help to tackle Tonga's health issues. Government distributes free chicks and ducklings, offers subsidized feed.

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Could chicks and ducklings, in part at least, be the answer to Tonga’s growing health problems with obesity and diabetes?

With in excess of 70 percent of the Tongan population classified as obese and with high levels of Type 2 diabetes, it is little surprise that Tonga’s government is involved in various schemes to improve the health of the nation. Giving away poultry, however, maybe one of the more unusual approaches.

Projects already well underway in the country include encouraging more exercise and trying to raise levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, but Tongans like meat and, in giving away chicks and ducklings, the government is hoping to change the meat they eat.

Turning to the healthy meat

Since late 1940s, Tongans have increasingly favored imported fatty meat, particularly turkey tails and mutton flaps. Both are cheap, and have the cachet of being imported, but both contain high levels of fat.

The country is not alone in its tastes or health predicament, with some neighboring countries having banned the import of both products in an attempt to halt in the increase in associated health problems.

The Livestock Division of Tonga’s Ministry of Agriculture, in conduction with independent agency Tonga Health, is giving the young birds away, and also offering subsidized feed across the country’s islands. The Church of Latter Day Saints is also doing its bit to promote healthy living and offering free fencing wire to help contain the birds and to keep away predators, reports Radio New Zealand.

This is not the first time that the government has given away chicks. However, previous attempts to develop a culture of chicken and duck rearing and consumption saw the chicks die.

So far this year, at least 10,000 young birds have been distributed among the islands’ population of 103,000.

Long-term investment

Supplying the population with chicks and encouraging the consumption of lean meat may not only be the healthy option, but also the cheaper, given the rising medical costs the small society is facing.

In 1973, 7 percent of the population were suffering from non-communicable disease – a synonym for diabetes in Tonga. By 2004, this figure had risen to 18 percent and, according to the Tongan Ministry of Health, is now 34 percent, although some think the figure could be higher.

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