Story: Pacific Island health

Pacific people are important contributors to New Zealand society, and to the arts, sport and music industries – yet in the 21st century their health status was poor. Pacific people had high rates of diabetes and infant mortality, and many lived in overcrowded conditions where infections spread easily. A number of targeted health initiatives aimed to combat these problems.

Story by Colin Tukuitonga
Main image: Giveaways from Le Va, the national Pacific health workforce development programme

Story Summary

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In 2013 Pacific people were 7.4% of New Zealand’s population. They made important contributions to society – but their health outcomes were often poor. Many of these problems were due to socio-economic factors, such as high unemployment, low income and overcrowding in low quality accommodation.

Births and deaths

Pacific people had a high fertility rate – in 2013, nearly three births per woman, compared with about two per woman for New Zealand as a whole. Pacific women also tended to have children young, and the Pacific teenage pregnancy rate was high.

Pacific people had a higher death rate and a lower life expectancy than the New Zealand average.

Children’s health

The Pacific infant mortality rate was 40% higher than the national average. Pacific children were more likely to be hospitalised for respiratory conditions, infectious and parasitic diseases, burns and unintentional injuries.


Diseases particularly affecting Pacific people included:

  • heart disease, which was their leading cause of death
  • diabetes, which was two to three times more common for Pacific people than the national average, and could lead to heart disease, blindness and kidney damage
  • cancer – Pacific people had similar rates to other New Zealanders, but often did not seek treatment until the cancer was more advanced.

Reasons for poor health

Pacific people tended to have lower incomes than other New Zealanders, and were more likely to be unemployed. Because of lack of money, they sometimes held off going to the doctor until they were very sick. Pacific people were also more likely to live in overcrowded, poor-quality housing, which encouraged disease to spread.

Risk factors

Pacific people were likely to suffer from lifestyle-related conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, which could be caused by:

  • obesity – a large proportion of Pacific people were overweight or obese
  • alcohol – while fewer Pacific people than average drank, those who did drink often drank heavily
  • smoking – Pacific people were more likely than average to smoke.

Health services

Pacific people were more often admitted to hospital for conditions such as asthma and diabetes than the general population. This was probably because of delays in seeking medical treatment, difficulty in accessing doctors, and lack of confidence in health services. Some medical services had been set up which focused on the health needs of Pacific people.

How to cite this page:

Colin Tukuitonga, 'Pacific Island health', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 12 December 2018)

Story by Colin Tukuitonga, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Aug 2017