Traditional Pacific Island diets were diverse and nutritionally appropriate. They included a wide range of foods, such as root crops, coconuts, green leaves, fruit, fish and seafood. In recent decades Pacific Islanders have experienced many changes in lifestyle, including changes in diet. Most of the dietary changes have not been for the better, and have contributed to the double burden of malnutrition throughout the Pacific: undernourishment and micronutrient deficiencies, and, at the other extreme, overweight and obesity and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Based on analyses to date, it is known that many indigenous Pacific crops and foods have particularly high nutrient contents. However, changes in lifestyle and food habits over the last decades have been associated with a reduction in the consumption of traditional foods and an increase in consumption of imported convenience foods. Thus, the diet-related disease burden is extreme. Analytical data on foods in the food supply allow us to see the composition of our foods, and enable us to construct diets to combat the deficiencies and excesses.
The vast natural biodiversity of food plants and animals represents an asset that is sadly neglected. Food composition activities provide a focus on the nutrient content of individual cultivars, wild and cultivated, that will add to the impetus to preserve this rich diversity for the food security of the region.
Trade of agriculture and fishery products represents one of the major priorities for the Pacific Island countries. Exports markets for agricultural produce are growing increasingly competitive and countries in the region must ensure the quality and safety of their products. Improved analytical capabilities in laboratories in the Pacific will facilitate trade by allowing exporters to certify the nutrient content, contaminant limits, and other compositional aspects that would otherwise represent trade barriers. The governments in the region have therefore requested and received FAO assistance in the generation, compilation and dissemination of food nutrient and contaminant data, laboratory accreditation and associated training.
An improved capacity for food composition analysis and effective dissemination of nutrient data will have positive impacts on health, agriculture, fisheries, biodiversity and the economies of the Pacific Island countries.