Greater health sector focus is needed to promote culturally appropriate food practices for older Māori- a move that may lead to less hospitalisations and lower mortality rates.
The findings are the result of a five year study which investigated the association between nutrition and mortality in Māori and non-Māori in advanced age.
New Zealanders aged over 80 years are the fastest growing population group and are predicted to increase six-fold by 2050.
Māori comprise 14 per cent of the total population- two per cent of those are aged over 80 years and the age group is increasing faster than the corresponding non-Māori population.
Associate Professor Carol Wham, from Massey University's School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, says older people are known to be at a higher risk of malnutrition and have an increased risk of developing health problems due to compromised food intake.
"Malnutrition risk among older Māori is identifiable and treatable. Effort is needed to engage relevant community and whānau support to ensure older Māori have food security and better access to traditional foods," says Wham.
"Older single Māori, mostly women, have the least material wellbeing, which may lead to low food security. Food has special cultural significance for Māori. The impact of colonisation has affected access to traditional foods with limited availability of food species and time to go out on the land, the sea and the forest to harvest and may compromise dietary quality."
Community-based interventions to improve the nutritional health for older Māori need to consider the role of companionship and community integral to Māori culture and the concept of manaakitanga to ensure food is available to all, Wham argues.
"There is potential for Māori-led strategies and community group support to build on existing programmes that aim to enhance the quality of life and wellbeing of Kaumātua.”