A Far North doctor has sparked international interest amongst practitioners and policy-makers with his thesis research in the field of obesity.

Dr Ricky Bell (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Hau, Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri), who lives in Kaitaia, and has clinical roles at the Mamaru GP clinic at Cooper's Beach and Broadway Health at Kaitaia Hospital, spent a year facilitating his own community-based research in Te Tai Tokerau before completing the four-year PhD research programme at Otago University, where he graduated last month.

His paper, Understanding obesity in the context of an indigenous population, was one of last year's most shared in one of the biggest medical journals in the Asia-Pacific region after it was published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice.

His paper — Huarahi Hauora: Identifying a pathway forward to wellness with Tangata Whenua — was described by by one of his thesis examiners, Professor Meihana Durie, as a blueprint for other iwi-centred hauora researchers with its approach to conducting research with indigenous populations, along with potential benefits for other indigenous communities.


"What's different about our research is that we are using indigenous knowledge-gathering processes within a targeted community to see if we can identify a way to increase the likelihood that people will be more successful in sustaining a healthy lifestyle," Dr Bell said.

"Our research has provided a platform whereby Māori have added their own voice to the obesity narrative.

"Whānau and hapū certainly have the capacity to effect the changes that we need. It will take some time, but I strongly believe that we can get there. We simply have to, or our whānau will continue to remain on the wrong side of all the health statistics."

He acknowledged the $4000 scholarship from Te Rūnanga-a-Iwi o Ngāpuhi, which enabled him to complete his studies more quickly than would otherwise have been possible, while the rūnanga acknowledged the value of its investment.

"Dr Bell's achievement and completion of his PhD reminds us of the importance and value of supporting Ngāpuhi through tertiary study, and we hope to learn more about his research and innovative approaches to help our own people overcome the challenges of obesity to lead happier and healthier lives," CEO Lorraine Toki said.