Chaser Habits

November 14, 2017

‘Taki’, ‘mix’ and ‘baby mix’ are some common words used by kava drinkers in Fiji. Consumption of kava is seen as a mode to relax after a hard day’s work and to socialise with friends and family during social gatherings.

In a recent “Kava Value Chain Analysis” conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, it was revealed that Fijians spent approximately $330m on kava in 2016. Ninety percent (90%) of kava produced in Fiji is for the domestic market, while the remaining 10% gets exported. This figure speaks volumes of the growing demand for kava locally and the consumption trend.

This excessive consumption of kava has become a worrying issue especially how it is a contributing factor to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as Diabetes, Cancer, Blood Pressure and Chronic Respiratory Diseases.

Firstly, those individuals who are serious kava drinkers usually spend long durations sitting with minimal movement of the body. Eating habits are also affected as some tend to skip meals and not eat at the right time. Long hours of drinking and inadequate rest and sleep results in lack of productivity the next day.

Secondly, a common habit which has accompanied kava sessions is the use of chasers. Not only do chasers get rid of the bitter taste and numbness, some individuals usually take chaser to drink kava for long hours even though their body cannot take it anymore. The common chasers usually consumed include carbonated (soft) drinks, Chinese lollies, lollipops, Kopiko, and mixed beans. In addition to chasers, there are some kava drinkers who also smoke cigarettes only during kava sessions.

About 95% of NCDs are due to lifestyle choices. Consumer’s day-to-day decisions, what consumers do and what they eat, has a huge impact on consumer health. Kava drinkers that have a habit of consuming chasers during their drinking sessions, do not pay attention to what’s in their chaser items. Most chasers consumed in these grog sessions are high in salt, sugar and fat. Consuming these in large amounts contributes to weight gain or obesity, high blood sugar levels (Hyperglycemia) leading to diabetes and high blood pressure. Those who smoke cigarettes while drinking kava are also at risk as half of all long-term smokers eventually die of cancer.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ministry of Health and Medical Services it is recommended that an individual should consume:

  • 1 teaspoon salt per day
  • 5 teaspoons of sugar per day (inclusive of hidden sugars)
  • 2000-calories intake per day for adults
  • Fat should be less than 30% of the total energy consumed, which equates to about 10-12 teaspoons

The above guideline apply to all sugars added to food by the manufacturer, cook or consumer. Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 1 teaspoon of hidden sugars.

On average, an individual consumes a 355ml can of carbonated (soft) drink, a lollipop and mixed peas while drinking kava. That adds up to 12 teaspoons of sugar and at least another teaspoon of salt. Thus, it becomes clear that an individual consumes more sugar and salt through chaser during kava consumption which is above the recommended daily intake. This excludes the hidden sugars that is consumed as part of the 3 daily meals.

To burn off 9.5 teaspoon of sugar consumed by drinking a can of soft drink, will require an individual do an intensive aerobics exercise for at least 25 minutes. Most people don’t do any form of physical activity the following day to burn off the extra calories. The calories which an individual’s body does not burn is stored as fat.

Consumers need to be aware of the fact that unhealthy habits lead to serious conditions such as diabetes. According to the 2016 World Life Expectancy diabetes report, Fiji is ranked second in the world with a high rate of deaths from diabetes. If you narrow the focus to just the Oceania region, Fiji is ranked first with Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands ranked second and third respectively.

The time to act is now. If you drink kava and need chaser, choose your chaser wisely! Choose healthy chasers low in fat, sugar and salt. Consume kava and chaser in moderation to avoid Cancer, Blood Pressure, Diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. Be mindful of the chasers you consume and the amount of physical activity required to burn off the extra calories.