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Maori community groups lead by example in tackling obesity

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New research by the University of Otago has highlighted the dominance of unhealthy food at sporting venues in New Zealand. Two thirds of food sold at netball and rugby venues is considered unhealthy, with sugary beverages, chocolate, potato crisps and fried food the most commonly available. Researchers suggest this undermines the positive impact of physical activity and that the benefits of sports participation could be "undone by a diet of junk food."

Hāpai Te Hauora, the largest Māori public health organisation in New Zealand, supports the University of Otago researchers' calls for the Ministers for Sport and Health to help sports clubs implement healthy nutrition policies.

"We've worked with community groups for a number of years on this kaupapa," says Lance Norman CEO of Hāpai Te Hauora. "Our focus has always been on community-led initiatives because in our experience these provide the greatest engagement, and the most sustainable change. Healthy nutrition policies are a great place to start, as long as they're implemented appropriately and supported to be sustainable. There's no point just riding in and telling communities they're doing things wrong and then putting the burden of change on them alone. There has to be financial and educational support behind these policies."

Norman points to recent examples such as:

- Aotearoa Māori Netball Incorporated going 'Fizz Free' in response to a partnership with Hāpai encouraging no fizzy drinks in 2017. This is now a baseline policy for all future tournaments hosted across Aotearoa.

- Ōrākei Volcanoes Sports club implemented a wai maori policy in 2016 to support their tamariki to address sugary drink consumption across their club.

- Te Whānau o Waipareira host an annual Youth Sports Challenge which has had a healthy kai and drink policy in place since 2015.

- Te Mahurehure Marae rugby league club has received healthy kai and drink policy support since 2015. This support has led to the implementation of healthy food policies into their catering, and nationally through their tournaments held across New Zealand.

- ASB Polyfest Māori stage worked with Hāpai to develop and improve food and drink policies from 2012-2015

Kaiwhakahaere Hauora-a-iwi for Hāpai Te Hauora, Janell Dymus-Kurei, agrees and encourages policy makers to take a health equity approach to obesity prevention. "We often promote brown faces when we’re celebrating sporting achievements in Aotearoa, let’s make sure to remember that when we design healthy lifestyles interventions and use that pride to lift communities up rather than denigrate them for making ‘bad choices.’ The evidence for social determinants impacting obesity rates is robust, and we need to look to this instead of victim-blaming. "

Community groups in Tāmaki Makaurau looking for support to develop healthy nutrition policies for their sports venue, marae, community group, kura or other rōpu can contact Hāpai for support, education and advice about sustainable funding.

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