November 14, 2006 -- Today the New Zealand Herald ran a good story by Cherie Taylor about efforts to address diabetes among the Maori and other indigenous peoples. The piece seems to have been sparked by a comment by an expert at a recent Melbourne conference that "indigenous people could be wiped out by the disease by the end of the century." But the main expert cited in the piece, New Zealand "diabetes nurse and educator" Shona Tolley, disputed that assessment as to the Maori, citing efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. We thank Ms. Taylor and the Daily Post for relying so heavily on a nurse expert, underlining the key role nurses play in addressing such important public health issues.
The story, "Diabetes about lifestyle - not race: Rotorua nurse," takes the eye-catching Melbourne conference statement by "[i]nternational diabetes expert Martin Silink" as a starting point. Then it consults New Zealand experts who level the comment, providing detail about that nation's efforts to address the disease. The article summarizes the response of local health providers as being that "[l]owering the incidence of diabetes among Maori is about education, not scaremongering."
The piece notes that there is a relatively high incidence of diabetes among the Maori, both nationally and locally. However, it notes, "Rotorua's Korowai Aroha provides a number of education and health programmes for its clients, including exercise and nutrition programmes." Tolley reportedly says that the disease has socio-economic roots, and that education is critical to addressing it:
There are a lot of inroads being made today through education. I don't believe Maori are going to be wiped out. It's not a fair statement because there is a lot being done in our community. ... It's about our lifestyles. It's convenient to have a night out and eat takeaways. One patient said it was cheaper to live on takeaways than going to the supermarket and buying vegetables. It can be a huge cost on the budget for people in the low income bracket. ... We have a huge fix-up ahead of us in terms of diet and lifestyle changes. It's massive but these days people, including Maori people, are trying hard to improve their lifestyle. Twelve or 20 years ago you'd never see as many people at the pools in the mornings as you do now.
The piece goes on to consult other New Zealand health experts, who generally echo these points. Health Rotorua Maori health manager Eugene Berryman-Kamp notes that (in the piece's words) "major contributing factors to diabetes include smoking, nutrition and inactivity[,] and indigenous people [are] most at risk from the disease because of introduced Western influences." Fight the Obesity Epidemic spokeswoman Robyn Toomath says Maori and Pacific Islanders are "genetically more susceptible to obesity and developing diabetes but the waistlines of all New Zealanders [are] expanding."
This piece highlights the expertise of a nurse on a health problem that is becoming critical to vulnerable populations throughout the developed world. Articles like this help raise awareness of the contributions nurses can make on issues like diabetes, in which the profession's focus on prevention, education, and community health can be great advantages.
We thank Ms. Taylor and the New Zealand Herald for the piece.
See the article by Cherie Taylor "Diabetes could 'wipe out' Maori by end of century" in the November 14, 2007 edition of the New Zealand Herald. The story also ran in the Nov. 15 Rotorua Daily Post under the headline "Diabetes about lifestyle - not race: Rotorua nurse."