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Pacific people battle malnourishment and obesity

MEDIA RELEASE: 26 March 2009

Embargoed until 11am

Pacific New Zealanders battle against malnourishment and obesity

Pacific people in New Zealand can’t always afford to eat the sort of food which might lessen their high rates of obesity, a new report says.

The report from the Obesity Action Coalition; Food Security for Pacific Peoples in New Zealand, says it’s getting harder for Pacific New Zealanders – especially those in households with children – to access food that is healthy and affordable, while being culturally and socially acceptable.

Made public today, the report says healthy food is more expensive than less healthy food, not as easy to access and often not as tasty. It says both central and local government can do more to make and enforce regulations for food supply and access that support Pacific New Zealanders as they battle malnourishment and obesity.

Pacific people are two and a half times more likely to be obese than the general population.

Lead author of the report, Professor Elaine Rush from AUT University, says governments must actively support a regular food supply and ensure access to healthy food.

“Nutritious food is generally more expensive than less healthy food and governments can do something about this.”

She went on to say that obesity, a prime risk factor of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, is a form of malnutrition.

“It’s related to eating too much food with cheap, but empty, calories that don’t provide the nutrients needed for good health.”

Professor Rush says that while Pacific New Zealanders are addressing the challenges with a number of their own initiatives – such as the highly successful gardens at Edmund Hillary School in Papakura, Auckland – ultimately, long-term, far-reaching action from central and local governments is needed.

Chief Executive of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, Dr Colin Tukuitonga, launching the report today, says Pacific New Zealanders’ community-based interventions show promise.

“These range from working with takeaway outlets to increase healthy options, to church-based healthy lifestyle programmes,” Dr Tukuitonga said.

“This is encouraging because the whole world is short of interventions that are known to be effective. We know that health and social problems are more likely to be addressed if affected populations are actively involved in designing and delivering preventive and treatment services. But it is still essential that action is taken across all sectors of society.”

Dr Tukuitonga was formerly head of the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.


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