Pacific people fail to get health message

By Martin Johnston

The majority of Pacific people have been left untouched by the healthy-food message of eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

A survey for the Counties Manukau District Health Board found that less than 30 per cent of Pacific people knew this was the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables - set out in the '5-plus-a-day' message.

That simple message has been a cornerstone of Government and health sector messages on good health for years in the area of nutrition.

Asians were at the same level as Pacific people for the fruit and vegetables intake question; just under 50 per cent of Maori gave the correct answer, and 60 per cent of "others", mainly Europeans.

The "baseline" survey of 2400 adults was to gather more information for the health board's five-year, $10 million Let's Beat Diabetes scheme, an ambitious campaign to help defuse the timebomb of obesity and type 2 diabetes by changing eating, drinking and physical activity habits.

Fifty-six per cent of adults are overweight or obese and the rate of obesity has doubled in the past 30 years. Among children, 31 per cent are overweight or obese, but the rate is 41 per cent among Maori children and 61 per cent for Pacific youngsters aged 5-14.

When asked if the lack of Pacific awareness of the fruit and vegetables message was a concern, public health specialist Dr Tom Robinson said, "I guess it creates an opportunity".

"Let's Beat Diabetes is a social marketing campaign. That's partly about providing knowledge so, yeah, that creates opportunities to work with Pacific and Asian people in particular to increase their knowledge about healthy eating."

"In general Pacific people [in the survey] probably had slightly lower levels of knowledge.

"They tended to be a bit more interested in healthy activity and improving their physical activity and eating than other ethnic groups."

"I guess for Pacific people we may focus a bit more on knowledge than for other ethnicities."

The survey revealed a high level of concern about weight issues and diabetes, high interest in making lifestyle changes, and useful information on what might be the best way to reach people with the diabetes campaign.

Maori TV proved to be a leading source of information for Maori, church for Pacific people and the internet for Asians.

A surprise finding was that nearly half linked type 2 diabetes to eating too much sugar - "which it isn't," Dr Robinson said.

"It's mainly a weight issue."

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