A popsicle and soda for breakfast. Ramen noodles sprinkled with Kool-aid powder and MSG. These are examples of the meals some kids routinely eat in the Marshall Islands.
“You could not design a diet to induce diabetes any better than the diet these folks have adopted,” said Brenda Davis, RD. “It just doesn’t get any worse than this.”
Davis spoke about her fascinating work in the Marshall Islands at the Enhancing Health with Plant-Based Nutrition Conference today. She also presented the latest evidence regarding plant-based diets and chronic diseases. About 300 healthcare workers and other interested folks attended the conference, which was co-sponsored by Northwest VEG and Adventist Medical Center.
In the Marshall Islands, which are in the northern Pacific Ocean, diabetes is the leading cause of death and disability. About 90 percent of adults 35 years and older are diabetic or pre-diabetic, Davis said. Half of the surgeries on the islands are amputations due to diabetes.
Seventy years ago, there was no diabetes in the Marshall Islands. People were slim, physically active and lived off the land. Back then they ate bananas, coconut, fish, seafood, and local plants. But then they came in contact with the western world – via post-World War Two atomic bomb tests – and began to adopt a western diet. Now their staples are meat, white rice and sweet drinks.
Davis spent eight months in the Marshall Islands, working with Canvasback Missions to set up a program to fight diabetes. They started a very aggressive lifestyle intervention program based around diet, exercise and stress management.
“You can’t imagine how beautiful these people are,” said Davis. “The people are singing and dancing and playing ukuleles. They are just the sweetest people in the world and they are wiping themselves out. It’s so sad. We desperately wanted to try to help them understand what’s going on. They think their diabetes is the result of the atomic bomb testing that was done there after the Second World War.”
Within a short time, the Marshallese found dramatic improvements in their blood sugar levels and the rest of their lives. They could sleep through the night and had less pain in their joints, arms and legs. They were no longer constipated. “What we heard all the time is, ‘I can think clearly for the first time in years,’” said Davis. She is planning another trip shortly to continue her work there.