Growth and Childhood Obesity: Perspective of Pacific Island Children in New Zealand



Pacific Island adults and children, living in New Zealand, by international standards have an extremely high prevalence of obesity. This chapter reviews the pattern of weight increase from birth to 6 years in a cohort of Pacific children in the Pacific Island Families study and in other cross-sectional studies that include Pacific children living in New Zealand. Factors shown to influence birth weight and growth include maternal size, breastfeeding, smoking and food patterns. At 4 years, birth weight, maternal size and smoking were positively related to subsequent body size, and breastfeeding, fruit and vegetable, and fat food consumption were negatively associated. In all surveys Pacific children were consistently larger than Maori and European children of the same age. Changes in fat mass and fat-free mass with time were examined using Hattori charts and the rapid rate of growth in Pacific children was described in terms of fat mass index and fat-free mass index. Because the larger body size can be tracked from birth it is important for both treatment and prevention that the aetiology, the time course from conception and the associated environmental pressures are also considered. This understanding should be applied to other populations exposed to similar obesogenic environments and intergenerational pressures.


Gestational Diabetes Mellitus International Obesity Task Force Pacific People Pacific Population Pacific Woman 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Percent body fat


Body mass index


Centres for disease control


Child nutrition survey


Fat-free mass


Fat-free mass index


Fat mass


Fat mass index


International Obesity Task Force


Type 2 diabetes mellitus


World Health Organisation


SDScore standard deviation score



The Pacific Island Family Study is funded by grants from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the Child Health Foundation and the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust.


  1. Arambepola C, Scarborough P, Rayner M. Validating a nutrient profile model. Public Health Nutr. 2008;11:371–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available from: (2011). Accessed 5 Jul 2011.
  3. Clark EM, Ness AR, Tobias JH. Adipose tissue stimulates bone growth in prepubertal children. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2006;91:2534–41.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cole TJ, Bellizzi MC, Flegal KM, Dietz WH. Establishing a standard definition for child overweight and obesity worldwide: international survey. BMJ. 2000;320:1240–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cook L, Didham R, Khawaja M. On the demography of Pacific people in New Zealand. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand; 1999.Google Scholar
  6. Darnton-Hill I, Nishida C, James WP. A life course approach to diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Public Health Nutr. 2004;7:101–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fowden AL, Giussani DA, Forhead AJ. Intrauterine programming of physiological systems: causes and consequences. Physiology (Bethesda). 2006;21:29–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Godfrey KM, Barker DJ. Fetal programming and adult health. Public Health Nutr. 2001;4:611–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Halfon N, DuPlessis H, Barrett E. Looking back at pediatrics to move forward in obstetrics. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2008;20:566–73.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hillier TA, Pedula KL, Schmidt MM, Mullen JA, Charles MA, Pettitt DJ. Childhood obesity and metabolic imprinting: the ongoing effects of maternal hyperglycemia. Diabetes Care. 2007;30:2287–92.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Joshy G, Simmons D. Epidemiology of diabetes in New Zealand: revisit to a changing landscape. N Z Med J. 2006;119:U1999.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Kuczmarski RJ, Ogden CL, Grummer-Strawn LM, Flegal KM, Guo SS, Wei R, Mei Z, Curtin LR, Roche AF, Johnson CL. CDC growth charts: United States. Adv Data. 2000; 1–27.Google Scholar
  13. McCarthy HD, Cole TJ, Fry T, Jebb SA, Prentice AM. Body fat reference curves for children. Int J Obes (Lond.). 2006;30:598–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. McCowan L, Stewart AW, Francis A, Gardosi J. A customised birthweight centile calculator developed for a New Zealand population. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2004;44:428–31.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Meleisea M, Schoeffel P. Samoan families in New Zealand: the cultural context of change. In: Adair V, Dixon R, editors. The family in Aotearoa New Zealand. Auckland: Longman; 1998. pp. 158–78.Google Scholar
  16. Ministry of Health. NZ Food NZ Children, key results of the 2002 National Children’s Nutrition Survey. Ministry of Health; 2003.Google Scholar
  17. Ministry of Health. A portrait of health: key results of the 2006/07 New Zealand health survey. Ministry of Health; 2008.Google Scholar
  18. NZ Institute of Economic Research. Pacific peoples in New Zealand: preliminary review of development issues. Wellington: NZ Institute of Economic Research; 2003.Google Scholar
  19. Ong KK, Loos RJ. Rapid infancy weight gain and subsequent obesity: systematic reviews and hopeful suggestions. Acta Paediatr. 2006;95:904–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Prentice AM, Rayco-Solon P, Moore SE. Insights from the developing world: thrifty genotypes and thrifty phenotypes. Proc Nutr Soc. 2005;64:153–61.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rush EC, Puniani K, Valencia ME, Davies PS, Plank LD. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003;57:1394–401.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Rush E, Puniani N, Snowling N, Paterson J. Food security, selection, and healthy eating in a Pacific Community in Auckland New Zealand. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16:448–54.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Rush E, Paterson J, Obolonkin V. Food frequency information–relationships to body composition and apparent growth in 4-year-old children in the Pacific Island Family Study. N Z Med J. 2008a;121:63–71.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Rush EC, Paterson J, Obolonkin VV, Puniani K. Application of the 2006 WHO growth standard from birth to 4 years to Pacific Island children. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008b;32:567–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rush EC, Freitas I, Plank LD. Body size, body composition and fat distribution: comparative analysis of European, Maori, Pacific Island and Asian Indian adults. Br J Nutr. 2009a;1–10.Google Scholar
  26. Rush EC, Scragg R, Schaaf D, Juranovich G, Plank LD. Indices of fatness and relationships with age, ethnicity and lipids in New Zealand European, Maori and Pacific children. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009b;63:627–33.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rush E, Gao W, Funaki-Tahifote M, Ngamata R, Matenga-Smith T, Cassidy M, et al. Birth weight and growth trajectory to six years in Pacific children. Int J Pediatr Obes. 2010;5:192–9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schwartz R, Teramo KA. Effects of diabetic pregnancy on the fetus and newborn. Semin Perinatol. 2000;24:120–35.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Secretariat of the Pacific Community. Obesity in the Pacific: too big to ignore. Noumea, New Caledonia: Secretariat of the Pacific Community; 2002. Retrieved from
  30. Secretariat of the Pacific Community. Obesity in the pacific: too big to ignore. Secretariat of the Pacific Community; 2002.Google Scholar
  31. Simmons D. Relationship between maternal glycaemia and birth weight in glucose-tolerant women from different ethnic groups in New Zealand. Diabet Med. 2007;24:240–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Simmons D, Breier BH. Fetal overnutrition in polynesian pregnancies and in gestational diabetes may lead to dysregulation of the adipoinsular axis in offspring. Diabetes Care. 2002;25:1539–44.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Statistics New Zealand. 2006 census, cultural diversity tables. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand; 2006. Retrieved from
  34. Statistics New Zealand. 2006 census cultural diversity tables. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand. 2006.Google Scholar
  35. Vickers MH, Breier BH, Cutfield WS, Hofman PL, Gluckman PD. Fetal origins of hyperphagia, obesity, and hypertension and postnatal amplification by hypercaloric nutrition. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2000;279:E83–7.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. World Health Organisation. Available from: (2009). Accessed 28 Oct 2009.
  37. World Health Organisation. Available from: (2009). Accessed 5 Jul 2011.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition ResearchAuckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations