Pasifika still struggling with smoking and nutrition - health advisor

The New Zealand Heart Foundation's new Chief Advisor Pacific says one of the biggest issues for Pasifika remains smoking.

Last week the organisation announced it had recruited the former Director of the Pacific Community, Colin Tukuitonga, to help their commitment to health equity for Pasifika.

Dr Tukuitonga has worked with the foundation in the past, helping design their Pacific Heartbeat programme.

Now that he has returned he has some big challenges to confront, beginning with high rates of smoking.

"It's declined in Pākehā folk and even in Māori but we still have pretty high rates of smoking," Dr Tukuitonga said.

"We have got to just keep the message there and try to make a difference there. Nutrition of course is a big one.

"We love our foods, everyone does, but unfortunately for us it's too much and too much of the wrong thing."

Dr Tukuitonga, who is also Associate Dean Pacific at Auckland University's Health and Medical Sciences faculty, said new ways of helping Pasifika make healthier choices was a must.

"We are in the process of trying to improve the quality of the food that is available, obviously alongside education so that people do make better choices.

"It's the usual stuff but it's necessary because heart disease is still a major issue in our communities and we don't seem to have made the impact that we want to make," he said.

Dr Tukuitonga said some of the methods and strategies that had led to successful outcomes in the Māori community could be used within the Pasifika space.

Despite the challenges he was looking forward to working with the foundation and said there had been a lot of good work done through the Pacific Heartbeat programme, and its longevity was testimony to that.