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Asian health in NZ: A worrying picture

In light of concerning new statistics, we're taking steps to address the worsening heart health of Asians in New Zealand. 

Dave Monro, NZRD

Dave Monro, NZRD

Chief Advisor Food & Nutrition

I completed chef training while studying nutrition/ dietetics and enjoy combining both of these elements to develop practical solutions for families to eat healthier.

Most of us know that New Zealand’s Asian population is increasing rapidly. The proportion of Asian people has almost doubled in the past decade, from 6% to 11% of the population. In Auckland, close to a quarter of the population is now Asian.

However, what you may not realise is that Asian heart health is worsening.

A newly-published study, ‘Asian Health in Aotearoa in 2011-2013: Trends since 2002-2003 and 2006-2007’, shows that cardiovascular disease and diabetes rates were higher among Asian people compared to the New Zealand European population. This is particularly so for South Asian people, such as Indians and Sri Lankans, who were more likely to be receiving treatment for hypertension, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.

The study shows that the prevalence of obesity in New Zealand Asian adults rose from 26% in 2002-03 to 41% in 2006-07, inching even higher to 44% in 2011-13. They were less likely to be physically active and more likely to be sedentary than New Zealand European adults.

Furthermore, fruit and vegetable consumption is worryingly low in Asian populations, with more than half of adults and nearly two thirds of children not meeting the recommended daily serves.

Successful intervention requires a greater understanding of the process – why and how immigrants adopt the diet, lifestyle and behaviours of a new culture.

What’s our response? 

In light of these concerning statistics, we're translating a number of our most popular resources into Asian languages. We want to support the Asian population to improve their heart health, but we know that the best approach needs to be both language- and culturally-appropriate. We have in the past created Asian-specific resources and health tool kits, but we’re stepping up our efforts. 

New resources we’re making available for health workers and general public:

  • Lunchbox resource in Hindi and Chinese
  • Healthy Heart Visual Food Guide in Hindi and Chinese
  • Healthy Heart Visual Food Guide Simple Steps in Chinese and Hindi 
  • Diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure resources in Hindi, Chinese and Korean.

In addition to these resources, we are continuing to emphasise that early intervention is best. We continue to focus on supporting schools and early learning centres to support healthy eating.

Giving children the best possible start – whatever their culture or ethnicity – sets them up with lifelong healthy eating patterns, thereby reducing their future risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases. 

Scragg, R. Asian Health in Aotearoa in 2011-2013: Trends since 2002-2003 and 2006-2007. Auckland: Northern Regional Alliance Ltd, 2016.