Posted by: Alicia Phillips | May 12, 2012

Why My Job is

Working in Fiji for the National Center for Health Promotion is awesome. I get to do fun things! Let me tell you what I have been working on this month…

#1- As I have mentioned before I am trying to get waist to hip ratio testing used more widely in Fiji as opposed to BMI testing. Both of these tests measure your level of obesity and your risk level for developing non-communicable diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Waist to Hip testing is, I believe, better than BMI because 1) it is a better indicator for NCD risk 2) it is much easier to measure because all you need is a tape measure and the calculator in your phone and 3) it is much more applicable for South Pacific Islanders because it takes in to account fat distribution and muscle mass whereas BMI does not. And also because…..BMI sucks and is outdated and is scientifically nonsensical.

So I was asked to present my argument to the Ministry of Health and then discuss the pros and cons of using WHR instead of, or in addition to, BMI testing. I thought it would be a good idea to do a field study and provide the results along with my presentation, just to really prove my point. What was the field study you may ask? To do both tests- the BMI and the WHR, on our national rugby team.

For those of you that are not aware, a lot of South Pacific islanders, especially rugby players, are genetically blessed with bulging muscles, and 6 pack abs, and low body fat levels. So I started with the BMI testing. BMI takes your height and your weight and plugs the numbers into an equation that then gives you a number that you find on a chart. If your number is above a certain point you can go from being normal to overweight to obese. The heavier you are, the higher your number. Every single one of these elite athletes was in the obese category. So, then I did their WHR and they all came out with a very low risk for developing NCDs. Crazy right?

BMI doesn’t take in to account muscle weight, and even though a lot of people here are overweight, they are also very strong. And then they get discouraged and confused when this chart is telling them they are obese and need to lose 20kg. Which is kind of ridiculous and not very logical – for this population at least.

So that is why I am trying to get WHR used more instead of BMI.

*You may also remember reading my post a few weeks back about my first (and last) date in Fiji. In it I said that I do not plan on going on anymore dates while I am here. After spending the day with the rugby team – I officially retract that statement. 😉

#2- Another fun thing I have been doing lately is baseline fitness screenings for local companies participating in a workplace weight loss challenge. This is a challenge that Colgate Inc, is putting on in association with the Ministry of Health and Fiji Physiology Association.  All last week I went to different offices in Suva, Nadi and Lautoka taking peoples blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight. It is the first healthy workplace challenge of it’s kind in Fiji! During the screenings we offer nutritional advice and tips on exercise and healthy living. We measured around 500 people in 4 days! We will be sending out nutritional and exercise advice weekly and in 30 days will go back around and measure everybody again.

And our team made the Fiji news!

Pretty cool right? I mean, I think it is. But then again I get super geeky about this health promotion stuff.  I think I get so excited about it because I see the people get so excited about it. There is nothing better than seeing someone take control of their life and their health and see results that they didn’t think was possible. And educating people about stuff that seems like common sense to me only because I have been exposed to it all my life, like the benefits of cutting soda out of your diet and replacing it with water, or how tin meat is full of fat and sodium and that you shouldn’t eat it every single day, or how getting 30 minutes of exercise a day can help you lose weight, have more energy, sleep better, lower blood pressure and a dozen other things. Things like this most of these people had never heard before!

I feel so lucky that I get to do such a fun cool job that I love while being a Peace Corps volunteer. I feel like doing this I have found my passion in life and although I love it here and am happy I still have another year to do this job, I am so looking forward to coming back to the states and getting in to health promotion at home. There are all kinds of possibilities!


  1. Awesome stuff Alicia… Hope you don’t mind if I share!

  2. You could so write a book! I really commend you for all you do! Cannot wait to see you again!

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