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A weighty issue for Auckland Māori

Young researcher Hannah Rapata is passionate about improving Māori health and nutrition.
Having spent the past two years cultivating her knowledge of indigenous health and food practices, the aspiring dietician was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Ngāti Whātua over the summer, examining childhood obesity rates and initiatives within the Auckland iwi.

Hannah, 22, received a University of Auckland $6000 Summer Research Scholarship to complete the 10-week research project as part of the A Better Start National Science Challenge.

Summer scholarships are available to high achieving undergraduates to contribute to authentic research and gain experience before they reach postgraduate level.

Hannah, herself of Ngāi Tahu descent, worked closely with Ngāti Whātua’s Whai Maia initiative, which provides community and health programmes to its mainly Auckland-based iwi.

“Seeing the impact of Māori health inequities within the community and my own whānau is something that has always upset me, especially when it affects children,” Hannah says.

“Any research which helps us to improve childhood obesity rates is incredibly important for our tamariki and the future of Aotearoa. I was also impressed with how incredibly involved and connected Ngāti Whātua are with its iwi members and the array of health programmes and support services it provides.”

Hannah’s role was to provide information and support to improve nutrition-related programmes, and to provide comparison with international and future studies.

Her research was supervised by Dr José Derraik at the University’s Liggins Institute, and Dr Justine Camp and Professor Rachael Taylor at the University of Otago, as part of A Better Start National Science Challenge – a team of researchers creating the tools and methods to predict, prevent and intervene early so children have the best possible start in life.

Hannah’s preliminary findings suggest there has been no significant change in the overall obesity rates among four-year-old Ngāti Whātua Orākei children from 2010 to 2016.

While it is positive that obesity rates are not increasing, the findings are in contrast to national childhood obesity rates which have shown a slight decline in the same period.

“There were also differences in obesity rates based on factors such as sex, ethnicity and socioeconomic deprivation, which could be an interesting area to explore in the future.”

Hannah is continuing her research at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences this year where she is completing a Masters in Dietetics.

Her study with Ngāti Whātua is the second piece of research Hannah has completed. Last summer she helped to develop a culturally relevant nutrition resource for teachers in Te Kōhanga Reo, supervised by Associate Professor Clare Wall and working with Toi Tangata (the National Māori Health Agency).

This piece of work led to an invitation to co-present at a Native American Nutrition conference in Minnesota last year, where she also spoke on the importance of increasing the number of Māori working within nutrition in New Zealand.

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