A new strategic research project with the aim of improving sleep for pepi and their whanau has been awarded $1.7 million over three years by A Better Start National Science Challenge. As well as improving sleep, this project also aims to reduce excessive weight gain in young tamariki (0-2 years), and to improve wellbeing among tamariki and their caregivers.

“There is a real need to accelerate progress in achieving healthy weight, successful learning and wellbeing amongst tamariki and whanau,” says Professor Wayne Cutfield, Director, A Better Start National Science Challenge.

The Moemoea project will look to traditional knowledge in Māori and Pasifika communities around centeredness, or connection, to create a pou (pillar) for whanau to use to improve outcomes for their tamariki / mokopuna, based around the potential of sleep to improve wellbeing.

“While sleep is a promising intervention to reduce excessive weight gain and improve mental health and wellbeing in European populations, relatively little is known about its potential in Māori and Pasifika whānau,” says Professor Rachael Taylor, lead investigator and Challenge Theme Leader from the University of Otago.

The research team will develop a sleep tool-kit that is engaging, useful and easy to use, and specifically tailored for Māori and Pasifika families. It will support communication and connectedness between children and caregivers and incorporate relevant cultural values and traditions.

“This research will enable Māori whānau and service providers to co-develop an effective toolkit, based on already established networks, which include both whānau and iwi networks,” says Professor Taylor. “The project will use traditional and ancient knowledge to frame western science, and therefore use the best of both knowledge systems to develop new understandings and models for sleep,” she says.

Co-investigator Justine Camp from Te Koronga, at the University of Otago will lead the Māori stream of this work, undertaking 20-30 whānau interviews, with participants strongly connected to and active within te ao Māori, as well as those less connected. The accompanying Pasifika stream will be led by Co-investigator, Dr Rosalina Richards from the Centre for Pacific Health, at the University of Otago, in collaboration with Jacinta Fa’alili-Fidow from Moana Research. This stream will discuss sleep contexts and tools with Samoan, Tongan and Cook Island participants with expertise in early childhood and family wellbeing.

Around 600 participants will be recruited through Plunket and / or iwi / Pasifika providers. The research team hope to have a toolkit available that concentrates on sleep, but could also include other aspects of infant health, such as feeding that works for Māori and Pasifika whānau, ready to roll-out via Plunket and / or Māori and Pasifika providers in years 4 and 5. Plunket is New Zealand’s largest provider of support services for the development, health and wellbeing of children under 5.

Current partners in this research are Te Rūnanga o Murihiku, Ngati Whātua kei Orakei, the National Hauora Coalition, COMET Auckland (Talking Matters), and Plunket, with ongoing discussions with several other interested groups. Each plays a key role in the development and utilisation of this toolkit.

For media inquiries and further information, please contact Justine Camp, Māori stream leader, mobile 021 220 0416 and Dr Rosalina Richards, Pasifika stream leader, mobile 027 307 4054.

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