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Fono celebrates successful nutrition and activity

Fono celebrates successful nutrition and activity programmes

15 September 2010

Improving nutrition and physical activity for Pacific youth – and sharing ideas about what works – is the aim of a one-day fono being held in Porirua tomorrow, 16 September.

The fono, which will be attended by health providers, researchers and agencies working to reduce obesity in Pacific communities, will be opened by Dr Colin Tukuitonga, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs.

Chair of the Fono Planning Group and manager of Pacific Health Service Hutt Valley, Nanai Mua’au, says the fono aims to highlight the issue of obesity among Pacific youth, and how it is being addressed.

“We would like to use the fono as a platform to launch nutrition and physical activity programmes and approaches. And also to showcase some of the very successful programmes that have been running over the last 12 months.”

One of these is the Healthy Porirua Project, which has been working with a number of agencies to improve access to healthy affordable food, particularly in Waitangirua and Cannons Creek, which currently have no supermarket or fruit and vegetable shop.

Project Manager, Cassius Kuresa, who will chair a session at the fono, says an initial focus of the project was getting stakeholders to work collaboratively to address issues such as fast food outlet intensification in the area.

“We can't work in isolation, so we've been liaising with the council and other policy makers to recognise the effects that these sorts of environmental factors have on the people of the area, and that everyone has a role to play.

“We’re also looking to establish a community market in the area, which has been a recommendation from our community forums.”

A highly successful sustainable gardening project, an initiative of St John’s Avalon Uniting Church, will also be presented at the fono.

Healthy Eating Healthy Action Programme Manager for the Hutt Valley District Health Board, Nicholette Pomana, says the project initially saw a vegetable garden established in the church grounds, followed by 18 families of the largely Tongan congregation setting up their own home vegetable gardens.

“They celebrated being able to harvest and cook their own food and learned to improve their diet by trialling new ways of cooking and eating more vegetables.”

More families joined the project in the second year, and a greenhouse was added to the church garden to enable seedlings to be propagated.

“There have also been a number of spin-off benefits, such as younger members of the congregation helping the elderly, largely pakeha, members of congregation with their gardens, younger members running dance and exercise sessions and establishing sports teams, and other churches in the Hutt Valley looking to St John’s for advice on starting their own gardens,” says Nicholette.

Mr Mua’au says there’s a lot of doom and gloom talk about the levels of obesity among Pacific peoples, but in reality, there are many positives to celebrate.

“For example, Pacific youth are increasingly becoming leaders in encouraging healthy eating and physical activity – they are spreading these messages through their families, churches, communities and sports clubs.”

However, he acknowledges that progress can seem slow.

“Sometimes it seems we are taking a step forward and then half a step back. We need to change the behaviour of the whole population, rather than focus on the individual.

“Along with the great community programmes we are seeing, we need changes in legislation. For example, in Victoria, Australia it will soon be mandatory for large fast food outlets to include a calorie count on their menus. We need to look at moves like this in New Zealand, and as a community we need to continue to influence health policy.

“There is also a need to support approaches to reduce the stereotyping around the issue of obesity and nutrition that has a negative impact on the way Pacific people feel and are being perceived. This negative perception tends to stymie a lot of innovative ideas and solutions.

“Having said this, Pacific people must not lose sight of the fact that obesity amongst our young people is an epidemic and we need to look at our own behavior and make appropriate and necessary changes. It is not easy but can be done.”

As well as those talking about local initiatives, speakers at the fono will include Dr Tasileta Teevale, a Doctoral Research Fellow in Pacific Health at Auckland University, and Arnell Hinkle from the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs.

Nanai Mua’au says following on from the fono it’s hoped to set up a regional nutritional and physical activity network to support the workforce to improve the health of Pacific people.


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