Hope for obesity crisis as Pacific preschoolers' rates dive

A new Healthy Auckland scorecard paints a dire picture of obesity rates in our largest city. In 1977 just one in 10 was obese. In 2017 it was one in three.

But the data has also revealed a glimmer of hope. Preschoolers are the only age group where obesity rates have dropped.

The number of 4-year-old Māori tamariki has fallen by 9 percent, from 31 percent in 2013 to 22 percent in 2017.

And for Pacific preschoolers' rates have dropped by an extraordinary 11 percent, down from 46 percent in 2013 to 35 percent in 2017.

Now researchers are keen to discover if the good work that's been done in preschools will have a ripple effect on the rest of the population. Newshub visited one kindy where little changes are making a huge difference.

Eating healthy can be tricky and sometimes you need a little help to get you on the right track.

Kids from Otara preschool Akoteu Kato Kakala are learning by helping to prepare a Cook Island dish. Their teachers have been a big inspiration because of their love of healthy kai. They even grow their own bananas at the kindy.

The healthy shift came after teachers and importantly parents took part in a Heart Foundation course looking at healthy kai.

"Because a lot of them don't know what amounts of sugar do to your body and they can relate it to their diabetes and it starts to click and make sense," says Courtney Todd, administrator at Akoteu Kato Kakala PreSchool.

Now the lunch boxes look much healthier and it's had a big impact on behaviour too.

"Lunch for the kids used to be chicken on the stick or pies," Todd says. "They're not so tired I guess.".

For the headteacher at Akoteu Kato Kakala, it's very personal as her father passed suddenly earlier this year after heart difficulties.

"It just reaffirms why it's so important to do this," manager Jeanne Teisina says.

When you live in an area where people are three times more likely to be obese, building parents' knowledge around healthy food can be much harder.

"Talk with them on their level of understanding in their language and culture, it's more meaningful for them to make the change," Teisina says. "It's understanding, building that knowledge because our parents want the best for their children - there's no doubt about that."

Parents have also changed what the family's eating at home.

"Yes, some have even lost weight," Todd says.

The Heart Foundation is already running courses for preschool chefs who can influence the health of dozens of children.

"What we're wanting to do is to take that success across to when they leave pre-school, into schools and also into adulthood," manager of Pacific Health Mafi Funaki-Tahifote says.

New Zealand spends up to $850 million on obesity each year. Inspiring the tastebuds of these little ones could hold the key solving this crisis.