Healthier Lives Newsletter December 2023

11 January 2024

Director’s message

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Professor Jim Man

With the end of the year almost upon us, Healthier Lives is reflecting on the tasks ahead to bring our research to fruition and into the hands of policymakers and communities to make a difference to the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders.

February will see the return to New Zealand of Professor Nick Wareham (University of Cambridge, UK), a member of the Healthier Lives International Science Advisory Panel, to speak at our Kōrero Tahi 2024. During his visit he will also exchange ideas with New Zealand public health officials about taking research evidence into policy.  We feel fortunate to have such an eminent researcher sharing his expertise and experience with us.

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Another exciting event for 2024 is the official launch of a Kaupapa Māori evaluation of co-design research within Healthier Lives, written by Drs Debbie Goodwin and Amohia Boulton. Alongside the evaluation report, we will publish a short guide summarising what we have learnt about codesigning research with Māori and Pacific communities. I believe this report and guide will be important resources for researchers working with communities in this country, and could potentially be useful for those working with Indigenous and minority communities worldwide.

Over the coming year, I will be watching with interest the progress of the Healthier Lives Implementation Network as it supports several Māori and Pacific community-based providers to pilot evidence-based health and wellbeing programmes in their communities, and evaluates the factors that underpin successful implementation.

On behalf of Healthier Lives, I wish you and your whānau a safe, healthy and restful holiday season. Meri kirihimete me te tau hou ki a koe me tō whānau hoki.

Jim Mann
Director, Healthier Lives-He Oranga Hauora

DiRECT protocol attracts interest

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Healthier Lives ran a workshop at the international scientific conference “Nutrition and Wellbeing in Oceania” co-hosted in Auckland in November by the Nutrition Societies of Australia and New Zealand.

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The focus of the workshop was the DiRECT protocol, a highly successful weight loss intervention for people with diabetes and obesity who wish to lose weight. DiRECT was identified as one of the most promising interventions to reduce the economic and social cost of diabetes in Aotearoa, in a 2020 Healthier Lives co-funded report. Healthier Lives recently funded the first randomised controlled trial of this approach in Aotearoa New Zealand, at Te Kāika Health, a Māori healthcare provider in South Dunedin.

Five facilitators delivered the workshop, including Professor Mike Lean (University of Glasgow), an internationally renowned researcher who led the initial DiRECT trials in the UK (pictured right). Other facilitators provided local, quantitative, qualitative, and healthcare perspectives on the use of DiRECT in Aotearoa. Several total diet replacement meal options were prepared and tasted by the 40 participants. Some workshop participants had concerns about this dietary approach, and these were addressed directly during the workshop, eliciting excellent feedback.

The workshop was highly successful, with many participants staying on afterwards to discuss the DiRECT approach. Two of the workshop presenters (Andrew Reynolds and Kate Campbell) also delivered scientific talks on Te Kāika DiRECT, with Kate Campbell receiving the best New Zealand student speaker award for her presentation.

Bringing modelling to life

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Cristina Cleghorn

Several Healthier Lives research teams are seeking creative ways to illustrate their research findings.
The Sustainable New Zealand Kai project has used modelling to identify an optimal diet that meets the nutritional needs of Aotearoa New Zealand’s population while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with minimal additional cost to individuals.

Dr Cristina Cleghorn, who leads this project, has been working with illustrator Toby Morris and Daylight Group to develop tools for communicating with lay audiences about this complex study. The first part of this science communication collaboration has been completed – an animated graphic that helps explain how dietary modelling works:

We look forward to seeing the study’s results brought to life by Toby Morris and his team.


Amplifying Tokelauan experiences in Aotearoa

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Dr Ofa Dewes, a Pacific health researcher and emeritus member of the Healthier Lives Science leadership team, recently presented research from the collaborative Lifecourse project at the Pasifika Medical Association Conference 2023 in the Cook Islands.

The Lifecourse project, which investigates the lifelong impact of chronic diseases on family and whānau, is co-funded by A Better Start, Healthier Lives, and Ageing Well National Science Challenges.

Dr Dewes presented a qualitative component of the Lifecourse project, IPforLife, which established connections with members of the Tokelauan community in Aotearoa to explore their experiences of living with chronic conditions.

The research revealed that while social groups and the church community play a key support role for families, information about the available healthcare and social supports is not getting through to the community. Given the significant health inequities experienced by Pacific communities living in Aotearoa New Zealand, there is an urgent need for health information to be delivered in more culturally appropriate ways.

Inaugural Food and Nutrition Policy Research Forum

Pathways Report

In November, Healthier Lives Director Professor Jim Mann chaired the first Food and Nutrition Policy Research Forum, a new evidence-to-policy pathway created by the Ministry for Primary Industries. The Forum will promote two-way engagement between food system researchers and policymakers, and will discuss the evidence that is available, and the evidence gaps that need to be addressed, to form effective policy for Aotearoa New Zealand.


Matire Harwood

Associate Professor Matire Harwood, Healthier Lives principal investigator and science leadership team member, who has been appointed to the role of Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland.

Renowned Ngāpuhi doctor announced as Deputy Dean

andrea teng

Dr Andrea Teng (University of Otago, Wellington) who received a Marsden Fund grant to investigate the impacts on public health of Tonga’s taxes on unhealthy food.

Tightening the belt: Are food taxes improving public health in Tonga?

In the news

Māngere – cycling capital of the Pacific?

Community-led efforts to change people’s transport habits, retrofit urban infrastructure, and create a connected bike network that serves the Māngere community are highlighted in a recent Spinoff article.

What the article doesn’t mention is that researchers from the Healthier Lives and Ageing Well ACTIVATION project have been working alongside community champions and government officials to support e-bike trials in Māngere (and elsewhere) and generate new knowledge about which strategies are most effective in enabling a shift to healthier and more sustainable transport behaviours.

How Māngere plans to become the cycling capital of the Pacific

How taking an evidence-informed approach can be used to prioritise interventions: the example of cardiovascular disease

A new briefing from the Public Health Communication Centre Aotearoa, co-written by Healthier Lives principal investigator Cristina Cleghorn (University of Otago Wellington), explores the impact of cardiovascular disease in Aotearoa and specific interventions that could save lives and money.

How taking an evidence-informed approach can be used to prioritise interventions: The example of cardiovascular disease

Upcoming events

Kōrero Tahi 2024: equity and beyond
Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

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In February 2024, Healthier Lives will hold a Kōrero Tahi to bring together researchers and kaupapa partners (stakeholders) to promote the uptake and implementation of research findings.
If you would like to be a part of the conversation about how Healthier Lives research can make a difference to your organisation or community, please contact us for registration details at . This event will be livestreamed and recorded so everyone can access this kōrero.

Visit our website or follow us on X @HealthierNZ to keep up to date with news about the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases in Aotearoa New Zealand.

View our 2019-24 Research Strategy

He Pikinga Waiora Research Findings Brief

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