Maori physical activity: a review of an indigenous population's participation

Jenny Ross, Mike Hamlin
Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2007, 18 (1): 73-6

ISSUE ADDRESSED: Indigenous populations have disparities in health along with disparities in modifiable risk factors, including low participation in physical activity. Given the importance of physical activity in moderating ill health, do all indigenous peoples exhibit low activity prevalence in concert with ill health? If an indigenous population is relatively active, what can be learned about physical activity development that has underlined this activity and could this be transferred to practice in other countries?

METHODS: A review of national surveys undertaken since 1997 reporting physical activity prevalence of New Zealanders of different ethnicities, including Maori, was conducted. This was compared with prevalence data from other countries gained from searches of databases including PubMed, MEDLINE, Sports Discus and government websites. Socio-economic and environmental influences were examined with a view to understanding Maori physical activity prevalence.

RESULTS: The proportion of active adult Maoris, the indigenous population of New Zealand, is similar to European New Zealanders. For example, the Ministry of Health has reported that 60% and 51% of Maori males and females respectively, and 58% and 50% of European men and women respectively, undertake at least 30 minutes of physical activity on at least five days per week. These findings are at odds with other indigenous populations, with the possible exception of Canada. The prevalence of undertaking no leisure-time physical activity is 48.7% for American Indian/Alaskan Native American women compared with 30.7% of white American women; 37.2% for American Indian/Alaskan Native American older adults compared with 29.3% of white American older adults; and 12% for Maori compared with 10% for all New Zealanders.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite health disparities, Maori are at least as active as European New Zealanders. The reasons for this lack of disparity in physical activity prevalence between Maori and European New Zealanders could be due to environmental influences, including those in the socio-cultural and policy environment.

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