By Daniela Maoate-Cox

AUCKLAND, 23 JANUARY 2017 (RNZI) — Feasts at weddings, birthdays and funerals could be providing the perfect environment for Pacific people to overindulge on sugary drinks.

Pacific Islanders have some of the highest rates of preventable diseases in the world and excessive consumption of sugar can lead to obesity, weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, gout, and tooth decay with a third of adults and 11 percent of children aged between two to 14 in the country being obese.


“A lot of my family members are obese and have diabetes and other health issues, this was always a concern for me,” said University of Auckland Masters student Paul Nai.

“So I took the topic and I did some research on it and I found Pacific Islanders are the highest consumers of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) in New Zealand. I also found they are the most likely to consume it and this is despite them being a minority in New Zealand.”

University of Auckland student Paul Nai is researching cultural factors that drive the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages in New Zealand’s Pacific Island Community.

A New Zealand born Tongan Nai is researching Pacific culture and soft drink consumption.

Pacific people aren’t necessarily buying sugary drinks on a daily basis he said but attend events regularly where they have become the norm.

“Any events, it could be a wedding, it could be a birthday and even at funerals they come with big feasts, and it’s expected that there will be a feast there so that is likely to contain sugary drinks as the dominant beverage.”

“Our Pacific people are more likely to consume it not because they’re buying it but because feast givers are buying it in bulk,” he said.

In September last year the Royal Society New Zealand called for compulsory sugar labelling to help people understand what food and drink contains sugar and how much.

Nai said people are familiar with the negative health aspects of soft drinks, energy drinks, and flavoured milk but are often confused by fruit juice.

“What makes orange as a fruit healthy is the natural sugars but [also] the fibres in it. When you talk about a juice, it’s highly processed and what happens is they take out the fibres and that kind of takes away the health element of the fruit juice.”

“A general layout on the table, you’ll have three big bottles of juice there and you’ll also have other fizzy drinks there so it’s really excessive in terms of what is provided – there is a lot of it. More than what is necessary for human consumption, there’s just too much of it available to our people.

The special occasions themselves are in no way to blame he said but researching cultural practices will help health providers target their information to enable people to make healthier choices.

“You’ve also got things like weight gain, type 2 diabetes, gout, tooth decay and a lot of the youth are getting teeth pulled out, and that’s all from sweet products but mostly from sugary drinks.”

“We don’t want to offend anyone, really it’s about providing an understanding for why this might be happening and moving towards providing ways for how to prevent it and be more healthy.

He said he hopes the research will find a solution by answering questions such as whether cutting out consumption altogether will work, whether public health promotions are effective, if messages are reaching the target and resonating with the people and ultimately if Pacific people are well informed of the health issues associated with high consumption of SSBs…. PACNEWS [/restrict]