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Food Research

Influences on the Eating Patterns
and Food Choices of
Rangatahi Maori in Auckland:
A Summary

Researcher: Helen Moewaka Barnes

This study, funded by the Health Research Council of NZ, was directed at identifying factors influencing the food intake and related behaviour of young New Zealanders aged 13-16, to inform policy and programme development. There were three components to the project to focus separately on Pakeha, Maori and Samoan teenagers.

Ka nui te mihi ki nga whanau katoa, mo ou koutou korero me ou koutou awhi.

We wish to thank all those who participated in this research, in particular, the families who gave willingly of their time. We would also like to acknowledge the work of caregivers in providing for their families, often under difficult circumstances and for sharing these experiences.


Research Aims

To develop a research based understanding of factors influencing food intake by rangatahi from different socio-economic status and household composition.

To inform policy and programme development, with the ultimate goal of improving nutritional status and well being of New Zealanders.


The sample included 20 families, where the rangatahi and caregiver identified as Maori. Rangatahi were aged 13-16 years and lived with their caregiver in a range of geographic locations within Auckland. Families were identified through a networking process and selected to provide a range of socio-economic circumstances and family compositions. Interviews took place from November 1995 to September 1996.

Families were categorised into three food expenditure groups. Ten were from families who reported lowest expenditure on food (between $14-30 per person per week). These families tended to be single income, sometimes beneficiaries, with family sizes ranging from 2 to 8, with a maximum of 6 children per household. Six were families in the middle range who spent more on food ($30-45). Family sizes ranged from 2-6 people, with a maximum of 3 children per household. The remaining four families spent over $45 per person per week and were all two income families with 3-5 family members, with a maximum of 3 children per household.

One face to face interview was conducted with the caregiver and one was separately conducted with the rangatahi. Caregivers were those who had the main responsibility for food purchasing and preparation. While most were parents of the rangatahi, one was a grandmother and one a guardian. Two caregivers were male and 18 female. Ten rangatahi were male and 10 were female. Interviews lasted between 45 and 90 minutes and were tape recorded and later transcribed.

Transcripts were analysed, looking for common themes. Caregiver and rangatahi interviews, from the same family, were also analysed together to identify responses which reflected on the same themes.


Dietary changes

Caregivers generally felt that the foods they now provided for their families had more variety and were therefore healthier than the foods they had been brought up on. However, changes that some caregivers saw as negative, were less seafood and more takeaways in their current diets. For many caregivers, seafood collected as a family, had formed an important part of their diet as children, but was now rarely eaten. Expense, time constraints and pollution were now seen as barriers to providing this food for their families.

Rangatahi eating patterns

Caregivers varied in their perception of rangatahi eating patterns. Some felt rangatahi had a well balanced diet and were generally happy with their consumption patterns. Others thought that the rangatahi ate too many ‘unhealthy’ foods and some felt that the rangatahi was not getting the amount of food or the variety that they needed.

Some caregivers were concerned that female rangatahi may not be eating enough or had irregular eating patterns, because of rangatahi perceptions about their body size.

Some rangatahi were seen as eating larger amounts than others in the family. This was seen as an expected part of being a teenager.

Only six rangatahi reported eating breakfast every day and seven said they never had breakfast. Some rangatahi said that this affected their eating patterns later on.

Half the rangatahi said that they bought lunch at school every day or nearly every day. Other bought foods, such as filled rolls, pies, hot chips, chocolate bars, potato chips and other packets of snacks and lollies. Food sharing and money pooling was a common occurrence.

Snacks after school were common and were either foods available at home or those the rangatahi purchased. There was concern that some rangatahi ate too much at this time of day. Consumption at home tended to include more fruit and bread and outside purchases were more likely to be takeaways and sweet and savoury snacks, such as potato chips.

Caregivers placed a lot of importance on the evening meal to provide what they saw as the main nutritional needs of the rangatahi and as a time when the family were all together.

Fruit and vegetable consumption

Most rangatahi ate fruit every day. Nearly all fruit was consumed at home and was rarely purchased by rangatahi. Between two and four servings of fruit per day were consumed by most.

Most rangatahi had vegetables every day. Nearly all vegetables were consumed as part of the evening meal. About one third had 1-2 serving a day and others ate 5-6 serves per day.

Just under half the rangatahi had a total fruit and vegetable consumption of less than five serves per day.

Food availability in the home

Rangatahi were less likely to say that fruit was always available in the home, while all adults said that it was. Bread, cereals, vegetables and meat were usually seen by both caregivers and rangatahi as always in the house and sweet snacks were commonly selected as sometimes in the house.

Food availability in the home was seen as a strong influence on rangatahi consumption, particularly for rangatahi who had little money to spend outside the home.

Rangatahi food purchasing

Increasing independence and rangatahi earning their own money was lessening the influence of some caregivers, who generally felt this was part of the process of growing up.

Rangatahi food purchases were based mainly on what the rangatahi ‘felt’ like eating; friends; what they saw when they went into the shop; price and television advertising .

Buying takeaways with friends was common for most rangatahi. This was seen as a social event and purchase choices were based on taste, price, location and television advertising influences

Perceptions of foods

Rangatahi and caregivers had similar perceptions about food groups in relation to health. Fruit and vegetables were seen as healthy and takeaways sweet snacks and savoury, packaged snacks such as potato chips were seen as less healthy.

Reasons for wanting to eat more some food groups and less of others were in line with rangatahi and caregiver perceptions of foods. Caregivers and rangatahi expressed a desire for rangatahi consumption to include greater amounts of foods that were perceived as ‘good for you’ and less of foods that were perceived as ‘not so good for you’. Most rangatahi felt that they would feel different if they ate different foods or drinks to what they ate now. Most commonly, they thought they would be fitter and healthier.

Family, television and school were the main sources of information on what foods were ‘good for you’ and which were ‘not so good’. The food pyramid was the most frequently recalled resource.


Female caregivers usually had the responsibility of cooking family meals, with a small number sharing this with their partner. Over half the rangatahi were able to, and did, cook a full meal for the family. Most of these were female.

Families were a major influence in rangatahi learning to cook, with intermediate school also mentioned.

Food shopping by caregiver


This study indicates multiple influences on rangatahi food choices and consumption patterns.

Food availability, perceptions of food and family influences are the most noticeable influences. The amount of money available within the family budget and the money available to the rangatahi to make their own purchases, were possibly the most influential in providing the context in which the rangatahi was able to make choices. The greater these budgets, the greater the range of choices available to both caregiver and rangatahi.

Environmental factors for caregivers included accessibility to seafood that was considered ‘safe’ and for both rangatahi and caregivers, television advertising was a factor.

Body size perceptions may also be an important influence, particularly for females in this age range and may be contributing to irregular consumption patterns or, at least, dissatisfaction with eating patterns and a low self image.

Rangatahi at this age are undergoing changes in parental and family influences as they make more choices for themselves and increasingly have their own money to spend. As much of the rangatahi purchases were of foods that were not available at home, purchasing choices are likely to change as rangatahi become increasingly responsible for their own diets.

Particular concern is indicated in the amount of food eaten at different times during the day, particularly the low consumption of food earlier in the day. This appears to have an affect on rangatahi patterns and types of consumption later in the day. Specifically, rangatahi may be more likely to consume takeaways and other foods that are generally considered to be high in fat and sugars and least desirable as part of the diet. Missing breakfast may also have implications for the current performance of these rangatahi at school.

This summarises the methods and results of the research study on rangatahi Maori eating patterns and food choices in Auckland, Aotearoa.


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