Spam Causing Health Crisis In South Pacific

It was lampooned by Monty Python and spurned by British shoppers, but Spam is fuelling a "raging epidemic" of diabetes, strokes and heart disease among the previously lithe inhabitants of the South Pacific.

Another of Britain's colonial culinary legacies - corned beef - is also being blamed for a rise in obesity-related illnesses in countries once known for muscled warriors and slim-hipped maidens.

Countries across the region - many of them former British territories, from Tonga to Tuvalu - are struggling to deal with a health crisis caused by poor diet and not enough exercise.

Where once islanders ate fish, vegetables and coconuts, burning off excess calories by casting nets from canoes and farming small plots of land, now they eat tinned, processed food and drive to the nearest shop.

"Even if you go into a store in a remote village you'll find shelves of Spam and corned beef," said Dr Jan Pryor, the director of research at the Fiji School of Medicine. "In the past it was unusual for anyone to have a stroke under 50, now people are having strokes in their twenties and thirties. You see it every day."

Figures from the World Health Organisation show that Pacific island nations make up eight of the world's 10 most obese countries.

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