Healthy living by example

posted: 9:15 am - 23rd March 2018

(Picture caption: L-R Ministry for Pacific Peoples Chief Executive Laulu Mac Leauanae, Finau Taungapeau, and Minister for Pacific Peoples Hon. Aupito William Sio at the 2018 Toloa tertiary Scholarship Awards.) 

When Toloa Scholarship recipient Finau Taungapeau’s father passed away of a heart attack, it spurred her on to not only take accountability for her own health, but also to ensure the wellbeing of her family and community.

 Although she has a background in nutrition after graduating from the University of Otago with a Bachelor of Science, Finau had always struggled with her weight until she made life-changing choices.

“My dad passed away aged 63 due to heart attack, I was obese, as well as my family and extended family,” Finau explains.

“When my dad passed I had been contemplating changing my lifestyle as I was struggling with my weight, unfit and my kids were following in my footsteps - my dad’s passing gave me the push I needed for action.”

Finau, who is of Tongan heritage, started putting her nutrition degree to use, changing the food she was eating, cutting down on takeaways, increasing vegetables and fruit and exercising.

In 2005, Finau applied for a Pacific health promoter role at Pacific Trust Otago to motivate her to further change her lifestyle.

“I lost 10kg after six months working as a health promoter and that continued. “Over the past 12 years, I have maintained a weight of 68 - 70kg, down from 86kg when I first started.”

After making her own healthy lifestyle changes, Finau was inspired to help others in the community to improve their health and wellbeing.   

As a health promoter, she organised a lot of weekly sessions such as aerobic in community halls, zumba, boxing, game nights, plus getting Pacific teams to join in Dunedin’s Social netball competitions.

Finau also organised Pacific sports tournaments for the school holidays, which she participated in, as she wanted to lead by example.  

During her time at Pacific Trust Otago (PTO), Finau has piloted an effective project, which involves the health promoter going into people’s homes, working with the entire family and delivering appropriate and practical education to suit their needs, including cooking lessons, how to shop healthily and on a budget – and also sharing meals with them. 

Through her involvement in the Pacific community in Southland over the past 12 years, she has become a respected leader in her own right.

 During her time at PTO, she has worked with dietitians in the Dunedin area, who have inspired her to study for her Masters in Dietetics this year at the University of Otago.  She is currently studying there full-time. 

“I saw first-hand that taking a multi-approach is more beneficial to tackling the very complex issue of health,” she says.

 Following her two-year Masters, Finau wants to focus on obesity in Pacific people, and establish a Pacific-focused dietitian service, while still remaining involved in health promotion. 

In February this year, Finau was one of 13 recipients of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) funded Toloa Tertiary Scholarships.

 Receiving this award, which aims to encourage Pacific students to pursue studies in STEM subjects at tertiary level and increase the numbers of Pacific people employed into STEM careers, lifts the financial burden of study, and also recognises the dedication and passion Finau has for the health of her people. 

Visit MPP for more information about Toloa Tertiary Scholarships.