Researchers from colleges in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Marianas and Micronesia will be undertaking the five-year research project funded by the US government.
They want to find out why some kids aren't leading healthy lifestyles and design culturally appropriate programs to reduce the problem.
Speaker:Bret Luick, food and nutrition specialist, University of Alaska Fairbanks
LUICK: There are a number of variables that are involved with weight gain, but yes, the bottom line you have to have adequate exercise and not overeat, yes, correct.
COUTTS: And which communities will you be looking at specifically in your study?
LUICK: Well it's across the Pacific and it involves two states; Alaska and Hawaii, as well as American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, Guam and the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands.
COUTTS: But will you be doing the whole of those countries or will you be particularly looking at urban and rural or just urban communities?
LUICK: Well the focus of the work is with indigenous people so location of the actual work, the research aspect of this project will depend a bit on the demographics and population distribution within each of the jurisdictions. So there is no emphasis on this to be urban and likely we'll have more of a rural trend to it, but there are constraints on the statistical analysis and the needs for sampling, which will constrain in some ways what we're able to do.
COUTTS: The rates of obesity in the Pacific I think have now been labelled under non-communicable diseases at a recent meeting as at crisis. Targeting children, is that get the child and give you the man, is it if you get in early and teach behavioural issues that early that that will reduce the problem and incidence of obesity?
LUICK: Yeah you put your finger on it. I think the overall goal here is to develop a healthy environment and to start at least initially with a young age group or two to eight year olds and to set them on the path to a healthy lifestyle. The statistics are pretty strong that children that maintain a healthy weight will be far more likely to remain at a healthy weight throughout their life.
COUTTS: Well what are some of the components of the research that you'll be introducing in this study? For instance will you be looking at manufacturers, because I know a nutritionist in Hawaii once told me that they were trying to work on the manufacturers of drinks and food containers for movies for instance, because why does a child need a litre drink container and a two litre bucket of popcorn? They were saying if they made the containers much smaller that's all they'd have and what do you need in an hour and a half? I mean what sorts of things are you looking at?
LUICK: Well the problems are endemic and widespread and there are a number of economic drivers and I think it'd be difficult to address all the possible things. But the approach we're taking is what they call community based participatory research, where we'll work with individual communities and form a coalition and decide what they feel they are capable of getting involved in and maintaining. We'd like this to have a long-term lasting impact. So yeah sugar sweet and beverages certainly are a critical issue and one that have again and again in scientific literature, the scientific meeting reports are very strong that that's an issue, and it would be a great area to target. The way in which to target it might best be determined with cooperation with the community, there's many dimples in trying to do these things.
COUTTS: And nature/nurture debate I guess, some will be genetic but others the environment and parents just giving the kids what they want?
LUICK: Well we all have a genetic background and that's just what we live with, but yeah the environmental variables that we might be able to address are wide and many and I'm hoping that we'll identify some that really can make a difference in people's lives. Many things have been tried with varying degrees of success. But if we can get physical activity up in the schools, if we can get starchy foods down, if we can get less sedentary behaviour, less screen time, less time in front of the internet and more time playing with other kids, I think that would be all to the good.
COUTTS: And you're also looking to a culturally sensitive approach, what does that mean?
LUICK: Well I think that what's considered a healthy weight and what's considered appropriate behaviour is really determined by the community itself, and it's not for me as a researcher to determine community standards, it's for me to help promote a healthy lifestyle. So in working with native populations it's just found that it pays to listen closely and work with the communities in getting the outcomes that they consider favourable.
COUTTS: And just briefly what are some of the outcomes that you'll be looking for?
LUICK: Well we'd like to see less undue weight gain so that children entering their teen years are not burdened with higher risk for preventable disease, such as type-2 diabetes.