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Heart Foundation funding addresses high Māori CVD death rate

The Heart Foundation announced funding today for a nutrition research project to address the high rates of cardiovascular disease and death among Māori in New Zealand, as part of its $4.3 million 2018 funding round.

Mrs Erina Korohina of Toi Tangata has received this year’s Heart Foundation Māori Cardiovascular Research Fellowship, and Dr Anna Rolleston from Tauranga’s Centre for Health has been awarded a $150,000 Project Grant – both for a new project on the barriers, enablers and solutions around healthy nutrition for Māori.

Deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) among Māori are more than twice that of non-Māori, and Māori are more than 1.5 times as likely to be hospitalised for the disease.

The project aims to provide a co-designed, kaupapa Māori nutrition intervention for predominantly-Māori communities.

“From my many years working in Māori Health, particularly community development in Tai Tokerau, I personally witnessed what the statistics tell us – there is an equity gap in CVD prevalence between Māori and non-Māori,” says Korohina.

“I saw that the programmes that didn’t work for Māori are those that don’t respond to a Māori world view. This new research funding and my Heart Foundation Fellowship means we will continue to build the evidence-base to show kaupapa Māori and co-design nutrition programmes actually work.”

Rolleston agrees and says their approach is unique, as they will engage the whole whānau in a “bottom-up” process. It will be “built by the people, they will have ownership, so it is much more likely to be successful than if we just brainstormed around a table.

“We will engage each community and their expertise to help us understand the issues and co-design an intervention. This will look different in each case, designed to suit that particular community and their needs.”

Achieving healthy nutrition is important to reduce CVD risk through the reduction of cholesterol, blood pressure, bodyweight and diabetes. These factors will be monitored alongside Te Ao Māori-specific measures.  

Heart Foundation Medical Director Gerry Devlin says this project is crucial for New Zealand-specific cardiovascular health.

“The burden of cardiovascular disease in New Zealand falls unequally on Māori in New Zealand. It is important to look at the reasons behind this, including lifestyle factors, from a kaupapa Māori philosophical viewpoint.”

Rolleston and Korohina will be joined by Dr Isaac Warbrick from the Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research at AUT University and new and emerging Māori Health Researcher Dr Zirsha Wharemate.

The new project builds on current research implementing a 12-week exercise and lifestyle management programme by Dr Rolleston, also made possible by funding from the Heart Foundation.

“We are just finishing up the kaupapa Māori lifestyle management programme, which includes exercise, nutrition, mental health and spiritual health. The overwhelming response was, ‘We need help with nutrition,’ that is where this project came from,” explains Rolleston.

She believes there is a lot of mis-information around nutrition in New Zealand communities, particularly from social media.

“I think when we ask people where they get their health information, it is not going to be any system-based organisation, it is more likely to be from Facebook. I see lots of people in my practice who talk about a family member doing well on some kind of fad diet, so they want to do it too.”

Korohina is grateful to have received the Heart Foundation Māori Cardiovascular Fellowship which she says “will allow me to upskill my research capabilities to better support the community. The opportunity to walk alongside Anna and Isaac who are research superstars to me, and Zirsha too, is pretty special.”

The project has four phases: determine current advice about healthy nutrition lifestyles in New Zealand; understand community and whānau perceptions; understand the barriers and enablers for sustained healthy nutrition and; co-design and pilot a nutrition intervention with whānau for long-term heart health.

Rolleston is excited that the research will not only result in successful nutrition interventions in the engaged communities but will also show that engaging community expertise in this kind of ‘bottom-up’ study is the way forward for heart health research in communities.

This year’s funding includes 14 Fellowships and scholarships, 10 project grants, 7 small project grants, five travel grants, and two ‘grant-in-aid’ grants. Five summer studentships were also awarded to the Medical Schools at the University of Auckland and the University of Otago. 

See full list of grants awarded