In The Marshall Islands, Traditional Agriculture And Healthy Eating Are A Climate Change Strategy

LAURA VILLAGE, Marshall Islands — Holding in his hand a bunch of what he called mountain apples, Steve Lepton grinned like a kid with a new toy.

“Oh, it’s good,” he said. “Yesterday I didn’t find any fruit on this one. Wow, this is great. They’re getting red.”

The delicate little fruit is crunchy like an apple and sweet. It’s a popular snack in the Marshall Islands, Lepton told The WorldPost, but kids pickle it with salt and Kool-Aid, which defeats the purpose of eating fruit in the first place.

As the Global Climate and Health Alliance made clear with an announcement on Dec. 5, small and low-lying islands like the Marshalls that are most at risk of climate change also face intense health issues related to a warmer planet. These dangers come from heat stroke and tropical illnesses like dengue fever, the Alliance warned. Hundreds of thousands of people could die.

But health issues not related to climate are a more immediate problem here. Sixty-five percent of people in the Marshall Islands are overweight or obese, according to a 2013 study funded by the National Institutes of Health — slightly less than in the U.S. More than one-third of Marshall Islanders have diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation, one of the highest rates in the world. Only two places — Tokelau and Micronesia, both neighbors of the Marshall Islands — have higher rates.

Eating habits here have changed since the old days, when fish and fruit provided all the nutrients humans needed to survive in this paradise. Today, rice, flour and meat are the base of almost every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Almost all of it is imported — at high prices. The Marshall Islands produce no rice, no wheat, no cattle. The diet has —> Read More