A Better Start National Science Challenge is very pleased to announce Associate Professor Tupa’ilevaililigi Riz Firestone as its new Pasifika Strategy theme leader.

Associate Professor Firestone is a senior researcher at the Research Centre for Hauora and Health at Massey University. She is currently a member of the Scientific Advisory Panel for A Better Start and has made a meaningful contribution over the past 18 months.

In her new role as Pasifika Strategy theme leader she will become part of the Challenge’s Science Leadership Team, where she will have an even greater opportunity to contribute to A Better Start – providing more input into research strategy and delivery.

Associate Professor Firestone, of Samoan descent, is a leading Pasifika researcher with considerable mana across the New Zealand research community.

Her research involves investigations on health inequalities and inequities, specifically non-communicable diseases among Pacific peoples in New Zealand. She has authored almost 40 publications.

She is the Principal Investigator of a major new research project for A Better Start National Science Challenge aimed at the prevention of obesity, prediabetes and poor dental health among Pasifika children. The two-year project begins shortly and has been awarded $1 million in funding from A Better Start.

Professor Wayne Cutfield, Director of A Better Start, says he is thrilled to have Associate Professor Firestone join the Challenge.

“Riz has a depth of knowledge and understanding of the Pasifika community and a desire, matched by A Better Start’s, to address inequities and make a measurable difference in the lives of Pacific children and their families.”

Associate Professor Firestone has headed other major research programmes, notably receiving $1 million in health research funding in 2017 to develop and put into practice a Pacific community-based intervention programme to reduce prediabetes. This funding was part of a joint research partnership between the Health Research Council of New Zealand, Ministry of Health, and the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge.

In 2020, she was awarded further HRC funding to implement a similar research programme among rangatahi Māori ($1.4M), and funding from the Royal Society of New Zealand to investigate traditional foodways among Pacific peoples in the Pacific region and in New Zealand with a specific focus on traditional knowledge holders and practitioners ($890K).

Welcome to the Challenge Riz!