Paths of Rapid Dietary Transformation: Disaster, Military Occupation, and Migration of the Marshall Islanders

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Jin Young CHOI, Sam Houston State University, USA
Anthony WINSON, University of Guelph, Canada
In just a few decades, population-wide weight gain, obesity and associated negative health impacts have characterized many of the developed countries and increasingly the global South as well. While several factors are believed to underlie this phenomenon, adoption of the industrial diet is foremost among them. This case study focuses on Marshallese Islanders (one of Pacific Islanders) who have unusually high rates of chronic disease (e.g., diabetes, hypertension, and obesity). We uncover the pathways of dramatic dietary transition and identify their contributing factors among Marshall Islanders who have experienced U.S. nuclear bomb testing, military occupation and destructive storms in their homeland and domestic and international migration. . In-depth interviews were conducted with a sample of 40 Marshallese elderly living in the mainland U.S. and in Hawaii who were born and spent at least their childhood in the Marshall Islands. Regardless of their experiences, they gave up their healthy traditional diet and developed a dependency on highly processed industrial foods. We discuss the circumstances that undermined traditional diets and created a dependence on highly processed industrial foods, and the complex ways in which dramatic dietary changes occur among populations in the global South. In particular, we highlight the largely ignored role that military occupation and nuclear testing, as well as natural disasters have played in dietary transformation and the serious negative health outcomes this has implied.