Researcher Dr Riz Firestone, Massey University
Researcher Dr Riz Firestone, Massey University

31 August 2017

A new study will help empower Pacific communities to tackle the alarmingly high rate of prediabetes in Pacific youth and adults as part of the government’s push to improve the management of long-term health conditions in New Zealand.

Massey University research fellow Dr Riz Firestone, of Samoan descent, has received almost $1 million in health research funding to develop and put in practice a Pacific community-based intervention programme to reduce prediabetes – the precursor to full-blown diabetes.

This funding is part of the long-term conditions joint research partnership between the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), Ministry of Health, and the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge.

Dr Firestone’s study will establish a Pasifika prediabetes youth empowerment programme involving Pacific youth (15–24 years old) from community groups in South Waikato and Auckland. This will build on Dr Firestone’s recent HRC-funded pilot study where a group of Pacific youth were taught how to plan and champion community-based interventions to counteract the key public health issues of obesity.

“Young people are critical partners in the decision-making process to reduce risk factors for prediabetes. Through our programme, these youths will acquire the knowledge and skills they need as key advocates to empower their peers, families, and communities to lead healthier lives,” says Dr Firestone.

Pacific people in New Zealand experience greater health inequities across a large number of poor health outcomes compared to the general population, including obesity, which is a major modifiable risk factor for developing prediabetes.

The rate of prediabetes for Pacific people ranges from 13.6 per cent in youth and up to 57 per cent in older age groups. In comparison, about 7 per cent of New Zealand European youth and 44.5 per cent of older adults have prediabetes.

Also receiving funding through this research partnership is Dr Michael Epton, Director of the Canterbury Respiratory Research Group at Christchurch Hospital. Dr Epton’s study aims to address New Zealand’s low referral and attendance rates for rehabilitation programmes for people with multiple long-term conditions (LTCs), such as diabetes, heart failure, arthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Dr Epton says current approaches to rehabilitation for people with multiple LTCs focus too much on the biological aspects of their diseases, and don’t include all the aspects of wellbeing that are important for improving health.

“Rather than developing new disease-specific interventions, we’ll work together with communities to develop and try initiatives that help people with multiple LTCs access community support, increase their sense of connectedness within their community, improve physical activity, and thus live lives they feel are fulfilling and worthwhile,” says Dr Epton.

HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson says this latest announcement extends the government’s allocation earlier in 2017 of more than $5.7 million in research funding through the long-term conditions partnership for diabetes prevention and management.

“These two additional research studies the partnership has funded crucially recognise the part that communities play in generating ideas that might work to relieve the huge physical and mental toll that chronic health conditions have on the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, and the immense challenge this poses for our health system. Our goal is not only to help New Zealanders live longer, but also to live longer in good health,” says Professor McPherson.

Dr Ridvan (Riz) Firestone
Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington
The Pasifika Prediabetes Youth Empowerment Programme (PPYEP)
$999,850, 36 months

Dr Michael Epton
Director of Canterbury Respiratory Research Group, Christchurch Hospital
WellConnected NZ: Improving individuals’ health by strengthening community connectedness – a proof of concept initiative
$1,129,598, 24 months