12 Dec 2018

Heart disease breaking up young Pasifika families

12:33 pm on 12 December 2018

Pasifika families are being broken up by startling rates of heart disease and the resulting shorter life expectancies, a New Zealand charity says.

Pasifika family.

Pasifika family. Photo: The New Zealand Heart Foundation

The New Zealand Health Survey shows that one in three Pacific deaths from heart disease happen between the ages of 35 and 65.

For Pakeha only one in 12 deaths occur in that age group.

The New Zealand Heart Foundation's Pacific health manager, Mafi Funaki-Tahifote, said Pasifika deaths at young ages were affecting families.

"They're at a critical time when they are still with young children and families, needing dad or mum to actually take them through life," she said.

"We are thinking about keeping families together. We are actually taking our mums and dads a lot earlier than we should.

Mafi Funaki-Tahifote

Mafi Funaki-Tahifote Photo: New Zealand Heart Foundation

"It is startling statistics, it is a wake up call and the reality is it is breaking up families."

The survey also showed 60 percent of Pacific adults and 30 percent of Pacific children are obese, increasing their risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The eating habits of the Pasifika community need to change for the statistics to be addressed, Ms Funaki-Tahifote said.

But the problem is complex because food is not just about nourishment for Pasifika, she said.

"It is the centre of our culture. We celebrate, we mourn with food being part of it.

"There is a great opportunity to look at changing the food. Not just what we eat but where we eat, whom we eat with and how much we eat. It is also around where our Pacific communities live and how many food outlets that are healthy or unhealthy."

Ms Funaki-Tahifote said a positive development was the number of students from the Auckland University of Technology who had just graduated with a Certificate of Proficiency in Pacific Nutrition.

The 26 graduates were now ready to join the fight against heart disease, she said.

"The course provides students with hands-on learning and practical nutrition information with a distinctive Pacific flavour.

"It's aimed at supporting New Zealand's Pacific communities to make better and life-long food choices," Ms Funaki-Tahifote said.

The course is expected to be offered at Waikato University within the next two years.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs