Understanding genetic risk factors for metabolic disease in Māori and Pacific

 Principal Investigator: Professor Peter Shepherd

Co-Investigators: Dr Ofa Dewes, Professor David Grattan, Dr Jennie Harre-Hindmarsh, Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs, Dr Kathryn Lee, Professor Tony Merriman, Dr Troy Merry, Associate Professor Rinki Murphy, Dr Lance O'Sullivan, Deidre Otene, Dr Greg Smith

 University of Auckland - 2018-2023

 Lay Summary
Risk of type-2 diabetes and obesity is greatly increased in Māori and Pacific people compared with other New Zealanders of European descent but, the reasons for this are not fully understood. Genetic differences may play an important role in these differences as highlighted by a recent identification of a gene variant that increased risk of higher body mass but decreased risk of type-2 diabetes. This variant is found in 30-40% of Māori and Pacific people but is virtually absent from New Zealand Europeans. Our programme of research will investigate the mechanisms by which this and other gene variants specific for Māori and Pacific are able to affect body mass and influence risk of type-2 diabetes and, we will go on to study and understand how these gene variants might influence the response of people to drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes.

Differences in fructose absorption in Pacific adolescents

Principal Investigator: Dr Ofa Dewes

Co-Investigators: Professor Peter Shepherd, Professor David Grattan, Dr Troy Merry, Dr John Sluyter, Dr Tamasin Taylor, Associate Professor Clare Wall, Professor Tony Merriman, Dr Lance O’Sullivan, Mr Garry Watson, Dr Rinki Murphy, Dr David Rowbotham, Ms Rachel Heeney, Dr Simon Thornley

University of Auckland- 2017-2020

Funder: Health Research Council of New Zealand

Lay Summary:

Excessive sugar consumption is a major factor contributing to the development of metabolic diseases. Strategies to reduce the impact of sugar on our society have not been successful uniformly so new approaches are needed because, if left unchecked, will continue to impose a significant burden on the health system especially in the context of a youthful Pacific population. Current approaches do not take into account the biological differences between individuals in the way they respond to sugar. Inter-individual differences in fructose uptake from the gut will identify those most at-risk of the deleterious effects of sugar. Targeting high fructose absorbers will provide a more efficient way of preventing progression to metabolic diseases. We will measure fructose uptake in high school students to identify high fructose absorbers and understand how this links to obesity and its consequences so that targeted intervention strategies may focus on the highest fructose absorbers.

Tapinga ‘a Maama’: Pacific Life and Death in Advanced Age

Principal Investigator: Dr Ofa Dewes

Co-Investigators: Professor Merryn Gott, Mrs Malia Hamani, Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell, Dr Lisa Williams, Dr Janine Wiles, Dr Mervina Cash-Kaeo

University of Auckland-2017-2019

Funder: Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment National Science Challenge for Ageing Well

Lay Summary:

Pacific older adults currently have high levels of unmet need and poor access to palliative care while dying. This study draws on Pacific health models to provide urgently-needed information on Pacific people’s experiences in palliative care, and the experiences and challenges faced by their aiga who carry out the bulk of their care. The research will improve end-of-life care for older Pacific People.

See featured article on research below!

Pacific Islands Families: Healthy Pacific Grandparents

 Principal Investigator: Dr El-Shadan Tautolo

Co-Investigators: Professor Janis Paterson, Associate Professor Stephen Neville, Associate Professor Valerie Wright-St Clair, Dr Wendy Wrapson, Dr Ofa Dewes

Auckland University of Technology 2017-2019

 Funder: Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment National Science Challenge for Ageing Well

Lay Summary:

This study will use participatory action research methods to understand what factors older Pacific people consider important for their wellbeing, and how those factors can improve in social and health system settings. Participant-proposed solutions and action plans will be developed and implemented to enhance the wellbeing of older Pacific people.

Pacific peoples experiences of bariatric surgery health care engagement

 Post-doctoral Research Fellow: Dr Tamasin Taylor

Supervisors: Professor Richard Siegert, Dr Ofa Dewes

 Auckland University of Technology 2017-2020

 Funder: Health Research Council of New Zealand Career Development Award

 Lay Summary:

Using Pacific methodology, the proposed qualitative study will explore Pacific clients’ experiences and decision making processes through each of the stages of care leading up to, as well as beyond, the bariatric surgery care process within New Zealand. The Ministry of Health Weight Management adults’ guidelines (2009) indicate that bariatric surgery is the most effective treatment for obesity with type 2 diabetes, indicating a remission of type 2 diabetes in 80% of cases after surgery and long term weight loss. However, Pacific clients are less likely to follow through with the surgery stage, despite having disproportionately high population levels of obesity. Using Talanoa, the present study will elucidate valuable insights from Pacific bariatric service clients, using a transformative framework to advocate for Pacific empowerment for more culturally relevant and effective health care delivery.


Diabetes, Obesity & the Church (DOC): Implementing the NZ Weight Management Guidelines for Pacific children, young people and adults.

Fanau FAB: Parent-led weight management programme for Pacific children targeting food, activity, and behaviour support.

SWITCH: Screen-time weight-loss intervention targeting children at home.

Kete Moui o Tamaki: Partnerships in innovative primary health care practice to improve health outcomes for young Pacific peoples.


2012. Dewes O, Elley CR. Kete Moui o Tamaki funded by Ministry of Health Pacific Health Branch. $82,011. 

2012. Dewes O. Networking grant for Diabetes, Obesity and the Church (DOC) funded by Health Research Council of NZ. $5,000. 

2012-13. Arroll B, Dalbeth N, Dewes O. Gout Study funded by Ministry of Health Pacific Health Branch. $86,548. 

2013-14. Dewes O, Swinburn B, Mann J, Coppell K, Scragg R, Kaholokula K, Percival T. DOC: Implementing the NZ Weight Management Guidelines in Pacific community funded by Health Research Council of NZ and Ministry of Health. $594,434. 

2018-2023. Shepherd P, Dewes O, Grattan D, Harre-Hindmarsh J, Krebs J, Lee K, Merriman T, Merry T, Murphy R, O'Sullivan L, Otene D, Smith G. Understanding genetic risk factors for metabolic disease in Māori and Pacific funded by Health Research Council of NZ. $4,997,081.


Contributed to the Clinical Guidelines for Weight Management in New Zealand Children, Young People and Adults.

Media reports in relation to published papers, conference presentations and current research.

Oral and poster presentations at national and international conferences.




 Robertson SP, Harré-Hindmarsh J, Berry S, Cameron VA, Cox MP, Dewes O, Doughty RN, Gray G, Jacobsen JC, Laurence A, Matisoo-Smith E, Morton S, Shelling AN, Sika-Paotonu D, Rolleston A, Skinner JR, Snell RG, Sporle A, Print C, Merriman TR, Hudson M, Wilcox P. Genomic medicine must reduce, not compound, health inequities: the case for hauora-enhancing genomic resources for New Zealand. NZ Medical Journal 2018, 131(1480): 81-88. ISSN 1175-8716.


Tautolo E-S, Wrapson W, Paterson J, Sright-St Clair V, Neville S, Dewes O, Iusitini L. Healthy Pacific Grandparents: a participatory action research project exploring ageing well among Pacific people in New Zealand. Self & Society, 2017, 45:2, 134-148.

Music Video: Learn more about our music video on our "Resources" page.

Digital Stories: Learn more about our music video on our "Resources" page.


Foley L, Ni Mhurchu C, Marsh S, Epstein LH, Olds T, Dewes O, Heke I, Jiang Y, Maddison R. Screentime Weight Loss Intervention Targeting Children at Home (SWITCH): Process Evaluation of a Randomized Controlled Trial Intervention. BMC Public Health 2016,  16(1):439.

Tolley H, Snowdon W, Wate J, Durand A, Vivili P, McCool J, Novotny R, Dewes O, Hoy D, Bell C, Richards N, Swinburn B. Monitoring and accountability for the Pacific response to the non-communicable diseases crisis. BMC Public Health 2016, 16:958. DOI: 10.1186/s12889-016-3614-8. URL:


Sanders M, Houghton N, Dewes O, McCool J, Thorne PR. Estimated Prevalence of Hearing Loss and Provision of Hearing Services in Pacific Island Nations. Journal of Primary Health Care 2015, 7(1):5-15.

Yongchie C, CR Elley, McCaffrey B, Davidson C, Dewes O, Dalleck L. Feasibility of an after-school group-based exercise and lifestyle programme to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and health in less-active pacific and Maori adolescents. Journal of Primary Health Care 2015, 7(1):57-64.

Dewes O, McColl A. Research with Pacific church communities: overdone or undercommitted? Journal of Primary Health Care 2015, 7(4):  349-350.


Maddison R, Marsh S, Foley L, Epstein LH, Olds T, Dewes O, Heke I, Carter K, Jiang Y, Mhurchu CN. Screen-time Weight-loss Intervention Targeting Children at Home: a Randomized Controlled Trial. The International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:111.


Rigamoto, M., Lima, I., Field, A., & Dewes, O. (2013). Responding to cellulitis in Pacific communities. J Prim Health Care, 5 (4), 336-337.

Dewes, O., Scragg, R., & Raina Elley, C. (2013). The association between church attendance and obesity-related lifestyle behaviours among New Zealand adolescents from different Pacific Island ethnic groups. Journal of Primary Health Care, 5 (4), 290-300. Related URL.


Dewes, O. (2012). Hearing loss among Pacific peoples. J Prim Health Care, 4 (3), 250-251.

Sanders, M. P., Houghton, N., Dewes, O., McCool, J., & Thorne, P. (2012). Estimates of the Prevalence of Hearing Loss and Summary of Hearing Services in the Pacific. Paper presented at Pacific Islands Health Research Symposium, Nadi, Fiji. 6 September - 7 September 2012. 


Biddle, M. G., Vincent, G., McCambridge, A., Britton, G., Dewes, O., Elley, C. R., ... Edge, J. (2011). Randomised controlled trial of informal team sports for cardiorespiratory fitness and health benefit in Pacific adults. J Prim Health Care, 3 (4), 269-277. 

Utter, J., Scragg, R., Robinson, E., Warbrick, J., Faeamani, G., Foroughian, S., ... Swinburn, B. A. (2011). Evaluation of the Living 4 Life project: a youth-led, school-based obesity prevention study. Obes Rev, 12 Suppl 2, 51-60. 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00905.x

McCabe, M. P., Fotu, K., & Dewes, O. (2011). Body image, weight loss and muscle building among Tongan adolescents in Tonga and New Zealand. Journal of Health Psychology, 16 (7), 1101-1108. 10.1177/1359105311400226

Maddison, R., Mhurchu, C. N., Foley, L., Epstein, L., Jiang, Y., Tsai, M., Heke, I. (2011). Screen-time weight-loss intervention targeting children at home (SWITCH): a randomized controlled trial study protocol. BMC Public Health, 1110.1186/1471-2458-11-524