NZ Parsis : Battle to beat obesity


January 23, 2009

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STRIDING OUT: Benifer Irani (second from left) sets the pace for good health with friends and family from the Zoroastrian community - Zeeba Shahlori, Delnaz Irani, Mahafrin Variava, Auzita Irani and Zeenia Irani. Times photo Wayne Martin.

Members of the Indian community are fighting obesity and have the second highest rate of diabetes after Pacific Islanders. JACKIE RUSSELL reports.  THE obesity rate for South Asians living in Counties Manukau is increasing faster than any other population group in the area.

The statistics have been released in the NZ Health Survey 2006/07, published by the Ministry of Health.

In the Indian community, 8.9 per cent of people have diabetes, and they are only surpassed by Pacific Islanders (10.9 per cent).

However, the growth rate is slowing for Polynesians and accelerating for South Asians. Indians have the highest proportion (18 per cent) of recorded diabetes for inpatient hospitalisations.

The issue affects many South Asians, including Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, whether they reside in their native country or have emigrated to Western societies.

The potential dangers associated with this rise in obesity include type 2 diabetes and coronary disease.

The Counties Manukau District Health Board has now formed focus groups with leaders from the South Asian community, specifically including influential Indians.

Benifer Irani, who represents the Zoroastrian community, says many worshippers of the Indian religion live in Pakuranga and Bucklands Beach.

Her father died after slipping into a diabetic coma and Ms Irani’s  mother-in-law is living with type 2 diabetes.

“We didn’t know he was suffering from diabetes,” says Ms Irani.

“We thought maybe he had blood pressure problems but it was diabetes. Heart disease occurs more in India.”

She says the younger Indian community is aware of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but when they emigrate to New Zealand they experience cultural shock and need support.

It can stop them from securing good jobs, attaining financial security and accessing appropriate healthcare.

Families may hesitate to take their elders for health checks when they’re visiting this country for long periods because of the expense, but Ms Irani says preventative care is more cost effective in the long term.

Health information is being shared through prayer classes and community meetings but the networks have not been established in all Indian communities.

“Typical Indian food contains ghee [clarified butter] but nowadays people realise about eating healthy and not cooking in oil unless it’s a special occasion.”

It can be difficult for some Indians because the elders show affection for their family with traditional cooking, but Ms Irani says many older women are adopting healthier cooking habits.

However, men can still be challenging by wanting customary food.

In the Irani household, fizzy drinks are reserved for special occasions and the children are encouraged to drink water.

Education is a priority and Ms Irani says many Indians come to New Zealand seeking a better life for the next generation.

Her children take part in activities such as gymnastics and karate to increase their exercise.

Some of these sports are specifically organised for the Zoroastrian community.

Adults are also encouraging each other to increase their activity.

“When I get home I try to park my car far away and do my exercise by walking around the block,” Ms Irani says. “We are the people who push ourselves to strive for the betterment of ourselves, the community and the country as a whole.”

Original article here.