A study published this month in Journal of Primary Health Care by researchers at the School of Population Health, University of Auckland found a correlation between adolescent obesity amongst Pacific Islanders (PI) living in New Zealand and church attendance. The results were based on interviews with 2,495 Auckland teenagers attending six different secondary schools, questionnaires given to students, and anthropometric measurements such as body mass index.
While the percentage of non-churchgoing overweight — as opposed to normal or obese — adolescents was the same as churchgoing for Samoans and Cook Island Maori, 1% higher for “other PI” and 7% higher for Tongans, the rate of obese churchgoing adolescents was higher across all groups. Samoan churchgoing teens had an obese percentage of 38% compared to 35% for their non-churchgoing peers. For Cook Island Maori, it was 29% compared to 23%; for Tongans, 37% to 29%; for other PI, 31% to 29%.
The study sought to examine different factors between churchgoing and non-churchgoing populations, finding that Samoan and Tongan churchgoers were more likely than non-churchgoers to have watched four or more hours of television or DVDs on the previous Saturday night. On the last Sunday night, non-churchgoers were more likely to have watched four or more hours across all groups, but the total percentages for churchgoers increased compared to Saturday; particularly, while only 13% of Cook Island Maori and other PI watched four or more hours on Saturday, 30% watched four or more hours on Sunday.
Researchers also found that across all PI groups, non-churchgoing teens were more likely to have less than one serving of fruit a day and were a bit more likely to not eat lunch. With the exception of other PI, non-churchgoing teens were also more likely to rarely eat pies, fast food, and fried food compared to their churchgoing peers. Samoan churchgoers were also statistically more likely to consume soft drinks than their non-churchgoing peers.
The work by Ofa A. Dewes, Robert Scragg, and C. Raina Elley built on existing research regarding obesity in PI communities, and other global studies that have found higher rates of obesity in churchgoing populations. They claim their research in this area is important because as an ethnic group, PI had the highest rates of childhood and adult obesity.