Gay men’s health and discrimination researcher awarded

Source: Massey University

Professor Michael Ross was awarded a Doctor of Science in recognition of his international career researching issues relating to gay men’s health and wellbeing.

Massey University alumnus and health psychologist Professor Michael Ross has been awarded a Doctor of Science for his lifetime of research into sexual risk behaviour and mental health in gay and bisexual men across cultures and continents.

Professor Ross, who is currently based in the Human Sexuality, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health programme at the University of Minnesota, enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in psychology at Massey nearly 50 years ago. He gained his BA (Hons) in 1974, dedicating his academic career from then to understanding the links between internalised homophobia, stigma, mental health and sexual risk-taking in sexual minorities – from the Americas to Africa, as well as Europe and Australia.

He’s published more than 500 peer-reviewed papers and 12 books, with his initial work focused on stigma and adjustment in gay men, and subsequently on sexual risk behaviors for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. 

Professor Ross, back in New Zealand to receive his degree based on a theses of recently published works, says his choice to work in this area early on was “certainly risky in terms of a future career.”

“I saw it as not a mental issue, but one of human rights and science previously based on poor research with only hospital samples. If we were describing heterosexuals based only on samples from mental hospitals, we’d get a pretty inaccurate idea of them too.”

As an undergraduate, he says there was “already a recognition that the earlier data were deeply flawed – 1973 marked the American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality from its list of disorders.” 

“I knew at that point that I wanted to go on into academia – and psychology excited me. There were few areas where one could break new ground, and be part of a new direction in the study of human sexuality and human rights.

He graduated from Massey 12 years before the Homosexual Law Reform Bill was passed here in 1986 to decriminalize homosexuality. In 1973, he and two other men became the first to speak openly in the news media. They were interviewed for Radio New Zealand by host Lindsay Perigo. “We talked about being gay, about the issues of having to be hidden and stigma, and about law reform. It led to the slightly later 1973 Listener article, another first.”

Social stigma and mental health link in gay men

Professor Ross completed his PhD at University of Melbourne in 1979, and during the HIV epidemic of the 1980s, he explored the epidemiology of HIV and STIs in Australia, Sweden and Finland and the relationship of social stigma to mental health in gay men. 

His work included the development of methods for Internet studies of sexual minority populations, culminating in his work on internalized homophobia in a study of 180,000 gay and bisexual men in 35 countries and in 25 languages in Europe. This was extended to the epidemiology of HIV-related risk in injecting drug users in Australia, which paved the way into understanding the delivery of health services in prisons in the United States, and how the measurement of the prison social climate could predict health-related behaviors in inmates, staff health and safety in correctional environments. 

Over the past two decades, he published some of the first papers on gay and bisexual men and HIV and sexually-transmitted infections in East Africa, and the impact of stigma on health care and risk behavior in networks of gay and bisexual men. He is currently studying and evaluating the teaching of sexual history-taking and counseling in student nurses and midwives in Tanzania.

“Until the last decade, it was not recognized that there are significant gay and bisexual populations in large African cities, and that HIV risk in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the second wave of the epidemic, closely involves some key populations,” he says.

Light years and dark ages

Professor Ross, who has worked in medical schools or public health schools in universities since 1978, says that over the 50 years since he began his studies, attitudes towards homosexuality are “light years ahead in terms of social acceptance and knowledge, in most Western countries including New Zealand. But there are major parts of the world which are still in the dark ages in their conceptualization of, and discrimination against, sexual diversity.”

Despite being told by a senior psychologist back in 1974 that homosexuality was “not an appropriate topic”, for his psychology honours thesis, he says staff at Massey “strongly supported me and I did the thesis – which I believe was the first in New Zealand on the subject, and was published. I owe Massey for that support and academic freedom, which launched my career.”

He credits his New Zealand education as standing him in good stead for later scholarly success. “When I was at Cambridge University in the UK [where he earned a masters in Criminology and a Diploma in Applied Criminology in the early 2000s], I got to my first class and thought OMG, I am in here with the brightest people in the world! How am I going to make it? I later realised that I had the advantage of a superb education in New Zealand, from primary school to university, all in Palmerston North – Terrace End Primary, Ross Intermediate, Freyberg, then Massey. I was top or top-equal in my course at Cambridge. What better place [than Massey] to mark the “bookends” on my career of 50 years and nearly 600 publications?”

Professor Ross will be joined at graduation by friends and family including his cousin, Dr Kirsty Ross, a Senior Lecturer in psychology at the Manawatū campus. The degree of Doctor of Science is awarded for original contribution(s) of special excellence to knowledge in science. His thesis is titled: Health and Health Promotion and Applied Health Psychology in Stigmatized Sexual Minority Populations.

Diversity in neighbourhoods and online spaces

Source: Massey University

Topics at the conference include how to create a more inclusive society (Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash)

Diversity in neighbourhoods and workplaces – and online debates about free speech – are themes addressed by Massey University sociologists in this week’s Arahia He Ara Pathways conference on immigration and diversity.

The overarching theme of this year’s conference at Massey’s Auckland campus on Tuesday, 19 November, is Diversities of Migration: racism, difference and inequalities. The Pathways conference was established in the 1990s as an annual event for research and policy communities to discuss current issues relating to immigration and diversity. 

Senior lecturer and conference co-organiser Dr Jessica Terruhn says this year’s conference builds on and extends this legacy by highlighting the variety of ways that migration is shaping contemporary Aotearoa, while also seeking pathways to address the challenges of racism, settler colonialism and inequalities.

“Our aspiration is that together we can work as pathfinders, charting new directions for more inclusive societal futures,” Dr Terruhn says.

In his presentation ‘Performing rage’: undermining diversity recognition in Aotearoa by defending free speech, hate speech and bigotry, Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley addresses what he describes as “a populist rage at diversity” – or “performing rage” – enabled by online platforms and forums. This has resulted in “the internationalisation of populism and extremism and the possibilities provided by online platforms, at the cost of diversity recognition,” Professor Spoonley says.

In their presentation, Dialogues with diversity: working in organisations to understand constraints and opportunities, Associate Professor Robin Peace, from Massey, and independent researcher Geoff Stone, will share their findings on how three organisations are responding to diversity and building their capability and capacity in relation to more diverse clients and stakeholders. 

Dr Trudie Cain will discuss her work on how senior adults in Auckland negotiate superdiversity and how they “live with difference” in densely-populated neighbourhoods.

Dr Terruhn will present her work on how notions of equality and diversity play out in the visions of current urban development projects, with a focus on the Auckland suburb of Northcote.

Topics covered by keynote speakers, presenters and panelists include; the rise and fall of the discriminatory “family link” refugee policy, the importance of listening to communities in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, citizenship, cultural identity and Indigenous political participation, and migrant exploitation in New Zealand.

Dr Terruhn, who is coordinating the conference alongside colleagues and partners at the Auckland Council and the Human Rights Commission, says the richness and scope of the presentations will provide fresh insights, nuanced understandings and varied perspectives on the lived experiences of diverse communities in this country.  

“Informing policy makers and the wider public on issues relating to immigration in a way that promotes understanding and pathways to inclusion is a central aim of the conference,” she says.

Keynote speakers include: Anjum Rahman, a chartered accountant and the acting head of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand); Dr Emily Beausoleil, a lecturer of politics at Victoria University of Wellington; Melinda Webber, an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland; Rachel Simon-Kumar, an Associate Professor, School of Population Health, at the University of Auckland; and Shanthi Robertson, a sociologist and senior research fellow in migration studies and globalization at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. 

The opening address will be given by Auckland-based list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan, a member of the Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network and the National Council of Women. 

For more information on the speakers and programme, click here.

Development Studies celebrates 30 years

Source: Massey University

Development Studies programme director Professor Regina Scheyvns (centre, front) with current and former staff, current students and graduates at Wharerata, Manawatū campus to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the programme.

Development studies researchers at Massey have helped to transform lives around the globe by tackling the toughest problems – from economic inequality and labour exploitation, to lack of access to education and environmental sustainability – for three decades.

A celebration to mark the programme’s 30th anniversary brought together current staff and students with high-profile alumni, including the Cook Islands Ambassador to New Zealand, Elizabeth Koteka-Wright, and former staff, including the man who started it all. 

Founder Dr Crosbie ‘Croz’ Walsh, aged 86, shared his recollections of the challenges of setting up the first such programme in New Zealand – a game-changing, multi- and inter-disciplinary field of study that seeks to understand social, economic, political, technological and cultural aspects of societal change, particularly in developing countries. The programme is part of the School of People, Environment and Planning and is ranked in the top 100 development studies programmes worldwide. 

Dr Crosbie says it was structured to promote teaching, research and consultancy via strong collaboration between the University and relevant government agencies, such as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the development sector. 

Development Studies staff with the programme’s founder Dr Crosbie Walsh (front row, second from right).

Researchers in a privileged position

Head of development studies Professor Regina Scheyvens, the first person in New Zealand to gain a PhD in this field, told the audience that going to another country to do research involving local people is a privilege, not a right. The researcher usually has more to learn than to give, she says. 

In the past two decades as a lecturer and supervisor of numerous master’s and doctoral theses, she says she has witnessed students “go out into the world, and into Aotearoa, and do some pretty amazing things”.

She cited one example of a graduate who emailed her to say she had scored her dream job working as a midwife for Médecins Sans Frontières International (Doctors Without Borders) in Sierra Leone helping to re-build maternity health services post-Ebola.

Development Studies programme founder Dr Crosbie Walsh with current director and the first person in Aotearoa to gain a PhD in the field, Professor Regina Scheyvens.

Graduates making a difference around the globe

Guest speakers included development studies master’s graduate Denise Arnold, a lawyer from Tauranga and Women of Influence 2019 finalist who started the Cambodia Charitable Trust to empower children in Cambodia through education. 

Speaker and master’s graduate Jo Peek, co-founded (with another development studies graduate, Christey West) Just Peoples – a grassroots fundraising organisation in which 100 per cent of money donated goes directly to projects designed to help people living in poverty. The project has so far funded 64 projects – relating to clean water, free education, sustainable farming, mental health, microfinance and life skills – in 13 countries and made a difference to the lives of more than 200,000 people.

Professor Scheyvens, whose specialist research area is in sustainable tourism, says the programme is well established, with over 300 master’s and doctoral research projects completed, reflecting the work of committed, passionate change-makers who want to make a difference, and continues to build global connections through the work and influence of its graduates.

Next year it will launch the Master in Sustainable Development Goals, based on the United Nations’ 17 goals and the only such degree in Australasia.

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Security, facilities alleviate loneliness – study

Source: Massey University

Kāpiti Coast at sunset – a popular place to retire.

And aspects of neighbourhood design, like the provision of footpaths and lighting, and facilities such as transport, libraries, shops and services can also have an effect on the wellbeing of the elderly.

The Health in Ageing Research Team (HART) at Massey University’s School of Psychology has just released the findings of a study called Social Connections carried out on behalf of Age Concern Kapiti and the Kāpiti Coast District Council. 

Lead researcher Professor Christine Stephens says three quarters of the 919 respondents reported no loneliness, while a fifth reported moderate or high levels of loneliness. However, a more nuanced measure of loneliness revealed that nearly half of those who took part in the study (from Ōtaki, Waikanae, Paraparaumu, Paekakariki and Raumati) experience feelings of loneliness.  

“Although the Kāpiti Coast has long been a favourite retirement venue, the levels of loneliness reported by older residents are similar to those found in other surveys across New Zealand,” Professor Stephens says.

Marital status, health, restricted social networks, housing satisfaction, neighbourhood accessibility, neighbourhood security and neighbourhood social cohesion contributed most strongly to differences in loneliness in this sample.

But the strongest associations with loneliness were related to housing and neighbourhood perceptions. “Reports of higher satisfaction with housing, and sense of neighbourhood security, accessibility, and social cohesion (trust in neighbours) were all related to less loneliness,” the report authors say. In terms of the aspects of social life that can be changed to prevent or alleviate loneliness, being part of a positive, cohesive neighbourhood mattered more than a person’s group memberships and social activities, the study found. 

Professor Stephens says that programmes to prevent loneliness among older people generally focus on individual interventions, such as visitor programmes or friendship groups. “These findings point to the importance of the neighbourhood environment and have important implications for local and central government policy around housing and housing developments,” she says. This includes aspects of neighbourhood design like the provision of footpaths and lighting, and facilities such as transport, libraries, shops and services.

The report also emphasis that people in low socio-economic settings are more likely to live in less well-serviced neighbourhoods and these inequalities should be taken into account. 

Different kinds of loneliness 

Researchers used two established measures of loneliness. The first – the UCLA Loneliness Scale –showed 76.9 per cent of respondents reported no loneliness, while 21.4 per cent reported moderate or high levels of loneliness. However, using the more nuanced De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale, which ­distinguishes between social loneliness (the lack of people and friends around you) and emotional loneliness (the lack of intimate relationships or confidantes), nearly half of respondents reported moderate to high levels of loneliness. 

“When we examined emotional and social loneliness separately, we found a difference in the incidence of these aspects of loneliness. Almost 35 per cent reported some social loneliness while only 14 per cent reported some emotional loneliness. These different categories provide some indication of the different types of support that could be provided for those with different loneliness needs: either more socialising, or more intimate support,” the report’s authors say.

Ages ranged from 65 to 98 across the sample, but age was not related to loneliness and nor was gender. Participants were selected randomly from the electoral roll, and the survey did not distinguish between people living independently and those in retirement villages. The study was funded by the Massey University Research Fund.

The HART team is planning further research in 2020 to learn more about the ways in which neighbourhoods are associated with loneliness and social connections.

Cannabis policy experts to speak at public lectures

Source: Massey University

The 2020 referendum on cannabis law signals the potential for a major change in policy direction, with signficant health and social implications.

Massey University is bringing five leading international experts to New Zealand, to host a series of public lectures on cannabis policy reform in the lead-up to the national referendum on cannabis law planned for next year’s general election.

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins and Dr Marta Rychert from the SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre, in collaboration with colleagues from the College of Creative Arts’ Design & Democracy Project, are bringing speakers from Australia, Belgium, Canada, the United States and Uruguay to speak about the cannabis reforms enacted in their countries in a series of lectures open to the public in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington next month.

In addition to a public seminar being held in Wellington on October 15, Massey University has partnered with the University of Auckland Public Policy Institute and University of Otago to bring the speakers to Auckland (October 17) and Christchurch (October 18).

Dr Wilkins says the referendum signals the potential for a major change in policy direction, with significant health and social implications.

 “There are a range of possible cannabis law reform options apart from models based on commercial markets like alcohol, including decriminalisation, home grow, cannabis social clubs and not-for-profit community trusts,” Dr Wilkins says.

“Some of these ‘middle ground’ options are not well known in New Zealand. The aim of these public seminars is to bring international experts from countries that have already enacted cannabis law reforms to inform the public about the outcomes and to stimulate public debate.”

Fellow drug policy researcher Dr Rychert says, “ultimately the objective of cannabis law reform is to address the unintended negative impacts of prohibition, while avoiding the harms of commercialisation and overuse. For example, researchers from the United States are increasingly raising concerns about the commercial cannabis regimes established in some states, including declining prices, aggressive marketing, high-potency products and commercial industry influence on the regulation making process,” she says.

“International experts will inform the New Zealand public about a range of alternative ‘middle ground’ reform options, between criminal prohibition and a profit-driven commercial market, that balance the benefits of removing criminal penalties and the negative impacts of commercialisation.”

International experts who will speak at the events are leading drug policy academics:

  • Professor Beau Kilmer – RAND Corporation Drug Policy Research Center, United States
  • Associate Professor Rosario Queirolo – Catholic University of Uruguay, Latin American Marijuana Research Initiative, Uruguay
  • Professor Simon Lenton – National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, Australia
  • Professor Tom Decorte – Ghent University, Belgium
  • Professor Benedikt Fischer – Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Canada (now with Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland)

The SHORE & Whāriki Research Centre and College of Creative Arts would like to acknowledge the funding support of the Massey University Strategic Investment Fund and the Royal Society Marsden Fund. Funding for these seminars was also received from the University of Auckland and University of Otago.

Event details:

Wellington – October 15


Wharewaka Function Centre, 2 Taranaki Street

Register here

Auckland – October 17


University of Auckland Science Centre, (Building 301), Large Chemistry Lecture Theatre, 23 Symonds Street

Register here

Christchurch – October 18


University of Otago, Rolleston Lecture Theatre, 2 Riccarton Avenue

Register here

New degree tackles urgent issue of sustainability

Source: Massey University

Professor Regina Scheyvens at a summit in Auckkland on Sustainable Development Goals this week.

A new Massey University master’s degree framed around the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is set to empower graduates to tackle some of the most urgent issues facing humanity.

Programme coordinator Professor Regina Scheyvens says sustainability is “perhaps the most pressing imperative facing humanity” and is addressed head-on by the creation of the Master of Sustainable Development Goals.

Professor Scheyvens, who leads the Development Studies programme in the School of People, Environment and Planning, says the degree represents a cross-university collaboration to address the three main elements of the UN’s sustainable development goals – ecological, societal and economic. It also presents a unique opportunity to showcase Pacific and Indigenous concepts of sustainability as alternatives to dominant western models, she says.

Since 2105 193 countries, including New Zealand, have signed up to the goals, which the United Nations says are “the blueprint” to achieve a better and more sustainable future.

The degree will focus on implementing the goals, in particular how to measure an organisation, community or country’s performance against the goals and how to work with others to achieve more sustainable outcomes. It is aimed at recent graduates looking for work-ready skills in sustainability and professionals from diverse backgrounds thinking about a career change.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s tweet in support of the new degree went viral

Breaking down silos for more collaborative approach to solving global problems

Professor Scheyvens says the degree takes a “silo-breaking approach” by fostering a new mindset in which there is greater collaboration between private, public and government institutions. It also allows students to work across disciplines including sciences, social sciences, arts and business. 

It has four specialisations: Business and Sustainability; Disaster Management; Environmental Sustainability and Global Development, and will be available from semester one next year, subject to final approval fromn the Committee on University Academic Programmes. It would be the first such qualification in New Zealand or Australia.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was administrator of the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017, endorsed Massey’s new degree this week in a tweet that went viral, following her keynote address at the the SDG Summit held in Auckland on September 2, 2019. 

For more information, click here:

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Lifetime effects of poverty take toll in older age

Source: Massey University

Health in older age can be undermined by disadvantage in early life (image/Wikimedia Commons)

Psychology researchers from the Health in Ageing Research Team (HART) investigated the lifetime effects of childhood deprivation, education, and adult wealth on health in older age. They say the study emphasises the need to address poverty urgently to curb both immediate and longterm disadvantage.

Lead researcher Professor Christine Stephens says her team, including Dr Mary Breheny and Dr Ágnes Szabó from the School of Health Sciences in the College of Health, used information from a longitudinal survey across 10 years and life course history interviews with older people (aged 65 to 80) collected in 2017. They looked at how experiences over a lifetime, from childhood at age 10, are related to health inequalities in older age. The study involved around 800 participants.

“We found that childhood disadvantage, measured in terms of parent’s occupation, quality of housing, access to resources like clothes and books, and overcrowding in the home, is directly related to levels of physical, mental and social health in older age,” Professor Stephens says. 

“Children who experienced lower socio-economic status generally had poorer health in older age.  Although most people’s physical health declined in general over 10 years, childhood deprivation was mainly related to health as people entered old age, not to the rate of decline.”

Researchers also studied the pathways that might explain this connection. 

“Childhood deprivation is related to the levels of educational qualifications achieved at school and this in turn predicts income and wealth in adult life,” Professor Stephens says. “Economic disadvantage in adult life is related to health in older age.”  

These pathways, particularly the direct childhood disadvantage to late life health, have been found in recent longitudinal studies conducted in Europe too. “The weight of this evidence points strongly to the case for caring for and educating all children in our society if we hope to have a healthy adult older population,” says Professor Stephens, who is based in the School of Psychology, College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Diversity in ageing

The researchers recommend a shift away from the tendency to frame older people as “one frighteningly large homogenous group”, in terms of media and public perceptions as well as in policy-making. The reality is an increasing diversity in older people’s health status.

“We need to shift the ways we construct our views of older people,” says Professor Stephens. This includes treating chronological age as a cut-off point and using population averages across countries without accounting for economic and cultural differences.

“Present health promotion efforts – spurred on by concerns about high health costs for an ageing population – focus on exhorting older people to eat well and exercise, although these practices may largely benefit only those who enter old age with economic and health advantages. Focusing on life- long wellbeing, starting with childhood care, will benefit all of society in the long term,” she says.

HART, a multi-disciplinary team based at Massey’s Manawatū campus, has been researching issues related to health and ageing in New Zealand since 2006, including employment, housing, physical, mental and social wellbeing, technology, and more. Current projects include a programme on maximising workforce participation for older New Zealanders, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Professor Stephens will be presenting the latest findings at the 33rd annual conference of the European Health Psychology Society in Croatia, in the first week of September.

Information lab to improve NZ society

Source: Massey University

Massey researchers and students can now use the Integrated Data Infrastructure laboratory on the Wellington campus, to gain greater and more in-depth insight into all aspects of our society and economy.

New Zealand’s first teaching and research Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) laboratory has been established on Massey University’s Wellington campus.

The lab is a collaboration between the Massey Business School, the College of Health and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences with Statistics New Zealand, and will provide staff and students use for IDI-approved projects.

The IDI is a large research database which holds microdata about people and households, including education, income, benefits, migration, justice, and health. The data is gathered from government agencies, Statistics New Zealand surveys, and non-government organisations, and is linked together or integrated, to form the IDI.

The data is completely anonymous, so information like names, dates of birth and addresses have been removed, and numbers such as IRD (Inland Revenue Department) and NHI (National Health Index) are encrypted.

Massey researchers and students can use the IDI to gain greater and more in-depth insight into all aspects of our society and economy. The laboratory is an integral component of Massey’s Master of Analytics programme. Students are given training in the use of the IDI and are encouraged to use for their capstone projects.

Representatives of the three colleges manage the operation of the laboratory and work together with Statistics New Zealand on approving student or staff projects.

College of Health Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane Mills welcomed the establishment of the laboratory on the Wellington campus. “It is an excellent illustration of collaboration between our three colleges, which have received enthusiastic support from Statistics New Zealand. The lab will enable our students and research staff to analyse a wide range of government datasets for projects which contribute to answering questions about complex issues that affect all New Zealanders.”

Massey’s Master of Analytics (Health) gives graduates the tools, skills and techniques to turn health data into robust information to guide policy development and decision-making across the health sector. The programme has been designed in collaboration with the major organisations in the health sector, including the Ministry of Health, Statistics New Zealand and District Health Boards.

While health data is one of the largest categories of data available for research in the IDI, the Master of Analytics (Public Policy) introduces students to the wide array of other data held in the eight broad public policy categories of: education and training; benefits and social services; justice; people and communities; population; income and work; and housing. Students also consider the data sovereignty (who owns and safeguards the data) and ethical issues associated with use of the IDI.

The IDI lab allows students in the Master of Analytics (Business) to add to their skillset by conducting advanced projects using real world data. In particular, the rich data from the IDI provides students with the opportunity to apply their analytical skills to solve important questions around various topics including household expenditures on goods and services, assets and liabilities, employment, housing costs, and living standards.

Feasibility study to investigate fruit and vegetable consumption among Māori

Source: Massey University

The Health Research Council of New Zealand is funding a feasibility study which will look at the validity, precision and acceptability of the tools used used to measure fruit and vegetable consumption among Māori.

Dr Geoff Kira, School of Health Sciences.

Dr Geoff Kira, Ngā Puhi, from Massey University’s School of Health Sciences has been awarded nearly quarter of a million dollars to carry out a feasibility study focusing on the tools used to measure fruit and vegetable consumption among Māori.

The study, entitled He Pātaka Marohi – the feasibility of novel and conventional instruments, will be carried out over two years, and is funded by a Feasibility Study grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Dr Kira says the conventional assessment of fruit and vegetable consumption is from self-reporting, which is prone to error. “Our team proposes to undertake a study to ascertain the validity, precision, and acceptability of multiple novel and conventional instruments that measure fruit and vegetable consumption,” he says.

“We want communities to consume more fruit and vegetables, so we need tools that can measure the change in eating habits. We’ve found that although most tools are scientifically valid, they have problems showing practical change,” Dr Kira says.

“This information will help us develop our next research funding application. That project will be to develop and test a local sustainable food network to help families living in poverty, to eat healthier food. Our previous work, also funded by the Health Research Council, has shown that those families will consume almost all fruit and vegetables if we remove the barriers to healthy eating.”

The study will be conducted with 15 Māori participants, who will undergo two weeks of initial assessment. Study participants will be from households that have used a food bank in the past 12 months, and will be recruited from the local community of Te Wakahuia Manawatū Trust, a Māori health social services agency, in Palmerston North.

“After a short break of two weeks, they will undergo assessment for two weeks, whilst receiving an intervention of free fruit and vegetables. This study will provide useful technical information for researchers and clinicians and valued culturally-appropriate instruments for application with Māori and those living in poverty,” Dr Kira says.

“At the same time, we will be able to gauge acceptability and appropriateness of the instruments from a high-priority health population group. The feasibility will have impact on engagement with Māori communities and the intended full study with Māori.”

College of Health Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane Mills congratulated Dr Kira and colleagues on the funding success. “This exciting study has the potential to provide a very useful, validated tool to measure the consumption of fruit and vegetables in a culturally safe way. Improving the health and wellbeing of Māori individuals, whānau and communities is fundamental to the mission of Massey’s College of Health. I’m excited and delighted that the Health Research Council have agreed to fund this important, pragmatic study which will generate findings that can be utilised in a range of settings.”

Dr Kira and research colleagues Associate Professor Rozanne Kruger from Massey’s School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, and independent scientist Dr Anette Kira are grateful for the continued partnership with Te Wakahuia Manawatu Trust.

“Their contribution has helped enormously towards the success of our work, particularly one of their social work staff, Venessa Pokaia. Venessa was our project manager previously and we hope once again she’ll step into that pivotal role,” Dr Kira says.

Dr Kira is a senior Māori health researcher in the fields of exercise, nutrition and sleep and applying them for optimal health and wellness. He specialises in applying mātauranga Māori and science to obtain the most promising outcomes.

Is New Zealand’s food system unsustainable?

Source: Massey University

Two thirds of respondents questioned in a recent study believe New Zealand’s current food system is not sustainable.

Associate Professor Carol Wham.

New research from Massey University’s College of Health shows overwhelming support for sustainability characteristics to be included in the Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults, set out by the Ministry of Health.

Calls for action to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals highlight food as the single strongest lever to optimise health and environmental sustainability.

Associate Professor Carol Wham from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition says national guidelines represent a key opportunity for policy makers to address food consumption patterns, and several countries have taken the lead to include sustainable diet characteristics into their guidelines. 

This research found 77 per cent of 298 agriculture, environment and health sector professionals supported the inclusion of sustainability characteristics. In particular there was high agreement to promote whole foods, sustainable seafood, sustainable lifestyle behaviours (i.e. physical activity), limit processed foods and reduce food waste.

Dr Wham says two thirds of respondents (63 per cent) believe New Zealand’s current food system is not sustainable, however there was a divergence of opinion by sector. “More than half [57 per cent] of the agriculture sector respondents believe New Zealand’s food system is sustainable, compared to less than 15 per cent of respondents from the health and environmental sectors.”

Disagreement between sectors has been demonstrated in other countries and previously led to the abandonment of environmental sustainability considerations into Australia’s National Food Plan, Dr Wham says. “In the United States, where dietary guidelines are jointly developed by both the US Departments of Health and Agriculture, opposing sector opinions have led to nothing changing. By contrast, in Qatar, food sustainability principles are integrated into national dietary guidelines. With little domestic food production this would seem unlikely but it seems strong authority of the Supreme Council of Health (supported by an Emirate government) and a lack of food industry influence, facilitated the process.”

This is the first study internationally to assess the degree of convergence between sectoral groups for the inclusion of sustainability characteristics into national dietary guidelines.

“This research has brought together a diverse range of professional expertise that spans the agriculture, environment and health sectors. Findings should be of interest to government sectors that can influence sustainability and health, for example, departments or ministries of health, education, primary industries, regional development, agriculture, food and finance,” she says.

Although academics have been promoting sustainability in dietary guidelines since the 1980s, currently no country meets basic dietary needs for its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use, Dr Wham says.

“The environmental impact of our food systems is already very evident in New Zealand – we have damaged ecosystems, depleted fish stocks, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity, with more change still to come.”

The paper entitled, New Zealand’s Food System Is Unsustainable: A Survey of the Divergent Attitudes of Agriculture, Environment and Health Sector Professionals Towards Eating Guidelines, was recently published in the Frontiers in Nutrition journal.

This study was undertaken by Rebekah Jones as part of the Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, and was supervised by Associate Professor Carol Wham from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition and Professor Barbara Burlingame from the School of Health Sciences.