14 November 2017

The Last Generation

We belong to a world where eating healthy is a luxury afforded to the middle-class. I know this because healthy choices in the supermarket are priced out of reach for families living from paycheck to paycheck. You almost need a permit to grow fruit and vegetables in your own backyard. Perhaps more strikingly, the working poor don’t live as long or as well as the rest of society.

People earning low wages are nearly predisposed to type 2 diabetes by how little they earn. I just so happen to be living proof of that. My family and I grew up on white bread and rice with every meal. Today, most of us are living with diabetes. We didn’t know any better at the time, but what we did know was multi-grain bread or brown rice required twice as much at the till. My mother, the backbone of our large family, was forced to make ends meet with every dollar. She didn’t have the time to compare products for their nutritional value. But make no mistake, our “normal” was slowly killing us. It didn’t stop at home or in the supermarket aisles either. For just a few dollars, you could feast on a pie and a soda at school. The sandwiches and bottled water were always a few dollars more – and primarily out of my reach. A culture of junk food was always in my face based entirely on the loose change I carried in my pocket. I was eating to survive, not to stay healthy and avoid illness. I could never be sure when the next meal would be or if there would be enough to go around.

While I might be considered young, I am wise enough to know story telling alone is not enough to change policy and the trajectory of the world’s poor.  So, with that in mind, I embarked on a career in public and community health, hoping my personal experience ends with this generation. I want for today’s children to inherit a future where being poor doesn’t mean dying sooner or living with painful, chronic diseases like diabetes. I want the disadvantaged, poor, low-resource (whatever the term may be) to fully enjoy the same rights and benefits of nutritious foods, healthy lifestyles and places to be physically active. I want to live in a world where your earnings, your place of birth or your lot in life do not dictate your health outcomes. This World Diabetes Day, as we reflect on our tremendous progress in reducing childhood mortality, let us also spare a thought or two for how much further we still need to go.  Our success or failure as a movement depends on how we transform those who have the least. The goals of drastically reducing mortality from diseases like diabetes, addressing the nutritional needs of all children and adolescents, and eradicating poverty can be unnerving at times. We need to ask ourselves how—we need to ask ourselves why.

Why are immigrants and indigenous groups  over-represented in obesity figures? Why do we associate gyms and outdoor joggers with affluence? Why don’t the doctors in impoverished communities look like us? Why are farmers so well-off in western countries? We can celebrate not because we’ve answered these questions, but because we’re finally asking them. Globally, we are making progress, but there is much more we can achieve together before my childhood and others like it can sit in the dustbins of history.


Samoa-based medical student, Andrew Lesa, is one of the 20 youth champions participating in the 2017 Global NCD Alliance Forum next month in Sharjah, UAE, where civil society across the globe will convene to share experiences, connect with existing networks, and build consensus on the advocacy priorities for 2018 UN High Level Meeting (HLM) on NCDs.  The global policy response demands the involvement of young investigators and advocacy must be able to drive national and regional progress on NCD prevention, management, and control.

Learn more about the Forum and how you can help to amplify its goals by:

  • Following the hashtag #NCDAF2017—join the conversation w/ @NCDAlliance, @NCDChild, @UN_EWEC #EWECisME
  • Visiting ncdalliance.org to hear from more delegates and stay informed
  • Share your own story with us