Story: Pacific Island health

Page 2. Children and young people

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While some improvements have been made, Pacific children have poor health compared to other children. In the 21st century the infant mortality rate was higher among the Pacific population than the national average – 6.9 deaths per 1000 live births in 2012 compared to a total population rate of 4.7. This rate is generally regarded as a good indicator of the socio-economic conditions in which children live. Significant improvements in child health indicators were reported between 2014 and 2018 except in oral health and childhood obesity.

Pacific children are more likely than others to be admitted to hospital for respiratory conditions, infectious and parasitic diseases, burns and unintentional injuries. In 2006-2010 their hospitalisation rate for asthma was much higher than other ethnic groups – 10.55 per 1,000, compared to 3.46 for European children. In 2007 and 2008 notification rates for rheumatic fever for children aged 0–14 were 30.7 per 100,000 for Pacific boys and 27.9 for Pacific girls, compared to 10.6 (boys) and 9.6 (girls) in the total population. These childhood problems are consequences of poverty, substandard housing and inadequate health care. Poverty rates were significantly higher among Pacific children compared with European children in 2012-14.

Promoting safer sex

The Village Collective was set up in 1997 to tackle the high rate of pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted infections among Pacific youth in South Auckland. The group visited churches, community groups, and schools, using music, drama, dance and art to educate adolescents about sexual health and wellbeing. In 2009 Village Collective began its ‘Random Acts, Island Styles’ project, where it gave public music and drama performances, some of which were filmed and posted on YouTube.

Young people

Young Pacific people generally have death, disease and injury patterns similar to those of other young New Zealanders. Information about secondary school students is available through health and well-being surveys conducted in selected schools between 2001 and 2012. The 2012 survey found that a slightly smaller proportion of Pacific secondary students reported that their health was excellent, very good or good, but there was no difference at all in their reported levels of general well being. Ninety-two percent of Pacific students reported that they were satisfied with their life.

Between 2001 and 2012 there was a 4% decrease in the proportion of Pacific students with depressive symptoms and their reported rates of depressive symptoms were very similar to those of New Zealand European students. However, Pacific students were slightly more likely to report self-harm and three times more likely to have attempted suicide in the last 12 months.

In 2012 about 20% of Pacific students surveyed had been or were currently sexually active, similar to the proportion of European students. A third of sexually active Pacific students reported using condoms and 50% used some form of contraception. However, European students were more likely to use condoms (50%) and three quarters used some form of contraception. This could explain the higher Pacific teenage pregnancy rate.

Pacific students (66% in 2012) were twice as likely as New Zealand European students (28% in 2012) to be overweight or obese. More Pacific girls (36%) were obese than Pacific boys (30%). However, Pacific students were more likely to report eating the daily recommended amount of fruit and vegetables.

How to cite this page:

Colin Tukuitonga, 'Pacific Island health - Children and young people', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2019)

Story by Colin Tukuitonga, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 9 Jan 2019