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Researching the negative impact of a westernised diet

Friday 18 February 2022 2:00pm

Justine image
Justine, whose work is in the process of being published, says she would encourage other students to pursue the scholarship.

It’s never too soon to start applying your studies in ways that can positively impact the wider community.

Te Ngaru Paewhenua: The Landward Wave Science Summer Scholarship supports undergraduate Māori and Pacific Island students interested in research and considering postgraduate degrees in science.

This summer 39 students received scholarship with an additional few receiving Riddet Institute Scholarships too. Students went on to be involved in ten-week research programmes across a diverse range of Departments. Food Science student Justine Klassen was one of them.

“My research was based on my food science studies but branched off into nutrition and then socio-economic challenges faced by Pacific Islanders. I looked at how the western culture in New Zealand can affect the eating habits of Pacific Islanders, compared to their traditional lifestyles and the cultural shifts needed to tackle Pacific nutritional issues.”

One thing Justine noticed as a distinct difference was the appearance of food as contemplation versus food as a meditation in different cultures.

“With globalisation and technological advancements, there had been a gradual increase in reliance on cheap, imported processed foods in the Pacific islands. Something I found fascinating was the effect of COVID-19, which caused a shift back towards a more traditional diet and lifestyles especially in the urbanised locations in the Pacific Islands. Pacific Islanders make up a huge proportion of New Zealand’s low socioeconomic status group and non-communicable diseases. A finding I found ironic and concerning is for those who migrate from the islands with the intention of having a ‘better life’ struggle in adapting to the westernised lifestyle in New Zealand.

“I’ve always had an interest in this because I am part Samoan and part Japanese. The diet is very different and the way they look at food in Japan is different too. Japanese culture seems to have a strong idea of nutrition and health whereas unfortunately in Pacific cultures their circumstances encourage food choices that consequently are associated with negative health outcome. The lifestyles are quite different.

Justine, whose work is in the process of being published, says she would encourage other students to pursue the scholarship.

“It’s been a good way to spend the summer. It’s something I’ve always wanted to look into and the scholarship gave me the push to pursue it. I’m so grateful that I could write this for other people to read.”

The scholarship supports undergraduate students to grow connections and experience the opportunities available for postgraduate study and will be on offer again at the end of the year.

Kōrero by Internal Communications Adviser, Chelsea McRae