Contributing factors to poor nutrition among Pacific peoples
1. Breastfeeding rates are low
There is strong evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding infants for the first year of their life. One of the health
benefits of breastfeeding is that it helps reduce the risk of obesity, and may help reduce the risk of diabetes, in the
infant later in life.6 It is therefore important that Pacific women are encouraged and supported to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding rates in New Zealand are similar to rates in other OECD countries, but overall, significant improvement
is required. Rates of breastfeeding at six weeks are lower in New Zealand, than in other countries, especially among Māori
and Pacific women.6 In 2007, 65% of infants at six weeks were fully breastfed, 54% at three months and 26%
at six months. For Pacific infants, these rates were even lower, with 53% fully breastfed at six weeks, 43% at three months
and 18% at six months.6
A number of barriers may contribute to low rates of breastfeeding, including:6
- A lack of breastfeeding education and support
- Returning to paid work
- Low awareness of common breastfeeding problems and solutions
- Limited access to appropriate help for overcoming breastfeeding problems
- Pain and exhaustion resulting in the introduction of formula
- Supplementation of breastfeeding with formula for other reasons
- Negative attitudes towards breastfeeding from the general public or family members
2. Breakfast is often skipped
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast at home is a proxy measure of good nutritional intake
and healthy behaviour. It is positively associated with increased intake of most vitamins and minerals, better food choices,
better concentration at school and improved mental health.7 Children who usually eat breakfast at home have
been shown to have a lower mean BMI than those who do not.8 It has also been reported that children who do
not eat breakfast are more likely to eat unhealthy snack foods and are less likely to eat lunch.9
Results of the National Health Survey 2006/07 showed that after adjusting for age, Pacific children were less likely
to have eaten breakfast at home every day in the previous seven days, compared to children in the total population.10
Reasons why children may not be eating breakfast include lack of parental/caregiver supervision at mealtimes, financial
barriers and time.
3. Bought lunches at school
The National Children's Nutrition Survey showed that over 13% of Pacific children bought most of the food they ate at
school from the canteen or tuck shop (about 25% in the 11–14 year age group). Consequently, Pacific children were less
likely than European or Māori children to bring most of their food from home – European males 92%, European females
91%, Māori males 77%, Māori females 75%, Pacific males 50%, Pacific females 57%.8
In many instances, the nutritional value of “school lunch” food is poor and high fat, high sugar, high salt
content foods are readily available for purchase. Healthy food choices are not easily accessed.
4. Carbonated soft drinks (fizzy drinks) are frequently consumed
The New Zealand Health Survey 2006-07 reported that approximately one in four Pacific children aged two to 14 years
had three to four fizzy drinks in a typical week. This level of consumption was similar to Māori children but higher
than European and Asian children.10
There is a strong association between fizzy drinks with a high sugar content and an increased risk of obesity and type
Fizzy drinks can be cheaply purchased and are frequently available as the only drink option for children at social gatherings.
5. Take-away food (fast food) is popular
The New Zealand Health Survey 2006-07 reported that Pacific children were twice as likely to have eaten take-away food
three or more times in the previous week, compared to children in the total population.10 Fast food usually
has little nutritional value, and is associated with weight gain and obesity.
6. Meal portions are too large
Consumption of large meals/portion sizes is common within Pacific communities. A study of over 4000 people in Auckland
found that Pacific peoples consumed more food per day than any other ethnic group. Pacific diets were higher in carbohydrates,
starch, sucrose, protein and fats than any other group. More Pacific peoples consumed larger than standard serving sizes
of chicken, fish, red meat, potato, kumara, taro and other vegetables. Pacific peoples were more likely than any other
ethnic group to fry food in butter, lard or dripping.11
It is usual for large amounts of food to be provided at community and church events. Increasing portion sizes supports
the general Pacific cultural view that “more of something” is better than “less of something”.
With regard to food, it is better to provide more food than less food because not providing enough food results in a bad
reputation for the hosting church or family. Conversely, it would be considered as a slight on the host if food is returned
on the plate. Reputation is important in Pacific cultures, as the population is small, and as many community members know
each other, there is potential for an impact on future working relationships.
7. Vegetable and fruit consumption is less than ideal
There is strong evidence that fruit and vegetable consumption has many health benefits, including a protective effect
against cardiovascular disease. The New Zealand Health Survey 2006/07 found that Pacific men and women were less likely
to eat three or more servings of vegetables a day compared to men and women in the total population.10
The Children's Nutrition Survey 2006/07 found that three out of five children ate vegetables three or more times a day.
Pacific children were most likely to eat taro, cooked green banana, cassava and tomatoes. Pacific children (50%) were
more likely than other children in New Zealand (40%) to eat two or more portions of fruit a day.8