A Maori health scheme based on the East Coast north of Gisborne and aimed at tackling the rising rate of diabetes is claiming some success.
The "Ngati and Healthy" programme of health service provider Ngati Porou Hauora and Otago University aims to reduce the prevalence of diabetes and pre-diabetic medical conditions, including insulin resistance.
An international diabetes conference in Wellington was told yesterday that after the programme's first two years, the prevalence of diabetes among the more than 200 participants was unchanged, but the rate of insulin resistance had declined markedly.
Average weight declined by nearly 4kg among women, but increased by more than 2kg among the men. At the start of the programme, more than 90 per cent of the participants were overweight or obese.
The number of younger women doing the nationally recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily on at least five days a week had increased by the two-year point.
The findings of some improvements from a programme based mainly on education and exercise - although it includes access to healthier foods - come despite the assertion at the conference by some experts that targeting individuals' behaviour will never beat the problem because obesity is determined by genes and an "obesogenic environment".
Dr David Tipene-Leach, of Ngati Porou Hauora, said it was important that the rate of diabetes had not increased in the programme.
Analysing the measurements at the start of the programme, its researchers said that because of the high rates of overweight, obesity and glucose metabolism disorders (more than 50 per cent), diabetes rates on the East Coast could be expected to rise even faster than national predictions, "unless effective intervention programmes are in place".
But Dr Tipene-Leach said: "We are beginning to hypothesise that we have halted this change ... We are beginning to see a halt in the rise in obesity and diabetes in young women and an increased proportion that don't have glucose metabolism abnormalities."By Martin Johnston Email Martin