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Pacific youth health

Research by medical student Hilla Fukofuka on links between mental illness and diabetes in Pacific youth could reduce the incidence of both conditions.

Fukofuka explains that Pacific adolescents have the highest rates of mental illness in New Zealand, and are a particularly high-risk group for type 2 diabetes, which is a rising epidemic in this country.

She worked with data from a Dunedin study of Pacific adolescents that had been analysed by her supervisor, Dr Mele Taumoepeau. The analysis showed that young Pacific people who had a higher sense of well-being were less likely to have risk factors that could lead to diabetes, either through the direct effect that a sense of well-being can have on the body, or indirectly through increased healthy behaviours.

This prompted a further study, led by Fukofuka, to identify specific barriers to the well-being of Pacific youth in Dunedin. She says that such knowledge has the potential to help fight poor mental health and diabetes by tailoring new interventions to this high-risk group.

Dunedin-born, of Tongan and Niuean descent, Fukofuka says that she became passionate about the subject through her medical studies in Dunedin.

“It is heart-breaking when you hear about such poor health statistics of people of your own ethnicity, and the fact that they haven't changed over the last few years indicates to me that we have to come at it from a different perspective.”

The Health Research Council and the University of Otago Medical School have funded the research.

Photo: Graham Warman
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