Healthier Together: methodology, results and impact of a co-designed, community-based, childhood overweight and obesity prevention program, tailored to the Māori & Pacific Islander community, aiming to improve the delivery of culturally-tailored health care and contribute to a reduction in health inequity experienced by one of Australia’s most vulnerable population groups

Jessica Hardt1, Mr Elkan Tanuvasa1

1Good Start Program | Children’s Health Queensland, South Brisbane, Australia

Background: Children of Māori & Pacific Islander descent living in Australia have a greater prevalence of overweight/obesity and an increased risk of adverse health outcomes. Despite this, obesity prevention programs tailored to the Māori & Pacific Islander population are lacking. Consequently, the risk of chronic disease continues to increase, placing a significant health and financial burden on the Australian health care system.

Methods: Program co-design involved a three-phase, iterative, participatory and experience-based process, guided by the Te Ara Tika: Guidelines for Māori Research Ethics, to promote respect and equity. Following traditional oratory customs of Māori & Pacific Islander cultures, “talanoa” facilitated the collaborative program design with consumers, cultural advisors and health professionals. Co-design formulated program objectives, session plans, resources and evaluation tools. Implementation and research processes are ongoingly co-designed with consumers, ensuring cultural sustainability across all program aspects.

Results: Co-design developed a 9-week community-based childhood overweight/obesity prevention program providing culturally tailored education across nutrition, physical activity, positive parenting practices, culture and health. Family participants of the pilot program have reported life-changing improvements to health behaviours including spending more quality time together, reducing sugar sweetened beverages and increasing vegetables.

Conclusion: Co-design empowered consumers to successfully build on community strengths to tackle the complexities of obesity. A bottom-up approach holds high potential to be adapted to other priority populations, significantly improving the delivery of culturally tailored health care. A consumer-led approach is pivotal to sustaining engagement and improving health outcomes across generations, ultimately tackling health inequity among Australia’s most vulnerable populations.


Jessica Hardt

Jessica graduated from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and Master of Dietetics Studies. Jessica holds a great passion for giving children the healthiest start to life, instilling her desire to work in the paediatric field. Jessica is currently a Research Dietitian at Children’s Health Queensland, with her main role evaluating programs delivered by the Good Start Program. Jessica manages research processes and evaluates the effectiveness of culturally tailored programs to reduce the high prevalence of overweight and obesity among Maori and Pacific Islander children and families living in Brisbane. Jessica is also responsible for the facilitation of grants relating to paediatric obesity and type 2 diabetes across Children’s Health Queensland. Jessica strives to optimise research outputs to strengthen program outcomes, aiming to tackle the prevalence of health inequity in the future. Developing both research and clinical skills early in her career, Jessica also practices clinically within the paediatric weight management field.

Elkan Tanuvasa

Elkan is a Multicultural Health Coach with the Good Start Program, working within the Healthier Together program, providing a childhood overweight and obesity prevention service to Maori & Pacific Islander communities. Holding an identified position, Elkan builds outstanding rapport with families as he coaches them through the 8-week program, delivering sessions relating to healthy eating, physical activity and positive parenting practices. Elkan holds a wealth of knowledge on working successfully with families of Maori & Pacific Islander descent, a key factor in the program’s success.

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