Driven by Curious Data

Back to Basics - Tahiti.

In 2010 we commissioned the  building of four 8-man outrigger canoes from David Konate, Tahitian canoe builder in Papeete, for an innovative public health intervention. 

The prevalence of overweight/ obesity among French Polynesian adolescents was not unknown and in many ways neither were the causes. In 2011 Eric Dewailly's team had characterised the differences between remote islanders and those who moved to the cities. The remote islanders, eating a more traditional diet and with a more active lifestyle, were, unsurprisingly in better overall health. What was surprising was that differences were less apparent in the younger generations of Tahitians. Both city and remote island teenagers had  similar rates of obesity.

Two common elements in both groups were the state run school lunch programs provided by the schools and the lack of physical activity. This study and intervention, coined Operation RASA, was designed to assess and address this rise in obesity by modifying school food and the physical environment of French Polynesian adolescents. During a  5 month study, 240 adolescents from a Tubuai island college (in the remote windward islands of French Polynesia) received a balanced diet based almost exclusively on local agricultural products and fish provided by the island community. In addition, weekly physical activity was supplemented by 2 to 4 hours weekly of training in Polynesian Va'a canoes provided to and left with the schools as a part of the research programme. The experiment indicated that a return to traditional diet and traditional physical activity reduced  weight and showed a measurable decline in the precursors to ischemic heart disease and diabetes in only 5 months. Forget the Mediterranean diet: eat and exercise the traditional Tahitian way - fresh fish and vegetables in a canoe! 

Philippe Max Rouja PhD