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Allamanda bannerMonday 8 January 2018 3:02pm


The Pasifika Heart Study aims to find out how the risk profile of South Island-based Pacific Islanders differs from those living in Auckland.

Family is a powerful motivation for Dr Allamanda Faatoese's research into heart disease.

“Of my parents' generation, my uncle Leao – a highly regarded figure in our family – was the first to die suddenly from a heart attack. Years of poorly-controlled type 2 diabetes caused his kidneys to stop working, then he lost his sight just before the birth of his first grandchildren. Not being able to see them was one of the biggest regrets of his life and my uncle realised that, if he had followed his doctor's advice, his health issues could have been prevented.

“My uncle Leao's desire was for our aiga [family] to learn from his experiences and try to break the cycle of early disease onset and suffering.''

A New Zealand-born Samoan, Faatoese is now working to prevent the early death of Pacific Islanders like her Uncle Leao. Based at the University of Otago, Christchurch, she is leading the Pasifika Heart Study to produce a profile of the heart health of Pacific Islanders in the South Island.

It's well known that Pacific Islanders suffer higher rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease than the general population, Faatoese says, adding that Pasifika people tend to die of heart disease at a younger age. In the Canterbury District Health Board area, for example, Pacific people's rate of dying from heart disease is 2½ times greater than others, highlighting the need to understand the impact of lifestyle changes and how the Pasifika genetic make-up contributes to poorer outcomes.

Almost all Pasifika heart disease research to date has been in North Island populations, particularly Aucklanders, so Faatoese and her colleagues from the Christchurch Heart Institute want to find out how the risk profile of South Island-based Pacific Islanders differs.

Over four years, they will measure heart disease risk factors among a sample of 200 Christchurch-based Pacific Islanders. The sample will include healthy and unwell people, aged from 20 to over 60 years.

Pacific people are 2½ times more likely to die of heart disease.

The Pasifica Heart Study will measure risk factors in a sample of 200 Christchurch-based Pacific Islanders aged 20 to 60 over 4 years.

The team will collect and collate a comprehensive data set, including personal and family medical histories, lifestyle behaviours, access to health care, education, income, nutritional intake, blood pressure, body composition, cholesterol level, blood sugars and other markers associated with heart disease. They will do this in partnership with Christchurch-based Pacific and low-cost primary-care health providers.

During her time as a PhD student, Faatoese worked with the University of Otago, Christchurch's Māori/Indigenous Health Institute on the Hauora Manawa Heart Study. The study surveyed Māori communities in Christchurch and Wairoa in the Hawkes Bay.

“It highlighted for me the benefits of Māori working with Māori and Pasifika working with Pasifika.

"You get greater engagement from the community and participants if you have similar lived experiences, and understand things that are important to them such as their respect and obligations to their elders.''

Faatoese is hopeful her work could one day improve and lengthen the lives of elders in her and other South Island Pasifika families.

“Uncle Leao told me his greatest regret was not listening to his doctor and following his instructions during the 20 years or so after his diabetes diagnosis. For Pacific Islanders, small lifestyle changes like cutting out sugar – over time – can make a big difference

“Hopefully this study might provide some robust, local evidence on the difference a good healthy lifestyle can make and help families avoid the unnecessary early loss of loved ones.”


  • Heart Foundation
  • Health Research Council
  • Lottery Health Research
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