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News and Media
Our latest and archived media releases and news articles.
9 January 2017
Infants sleeping in wahakura (flax bassinets) are relatively safe when compared with bassinets, a joint study between the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic has found.
The researchers, led by Professor Barry Taylor and Dr David Tipene-Leach of the University of Otago, and Associate Professor Sally Baddock of Otago Polytechnic, concluded there were no significant differences in risk behaviours in wahakura compared to bassinets, and there were other advantages, including an increase in sustained breastfeeding.
The paper was recently published in leading scientific journal Pediatrics.
The study, which was funded by grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the University of Otago, finds evidence that wahakura are relatively safe and can be promoted as an alternative to infant-adult bed-sharing.
“The study was motivated by the concern that Māori and other indigenous populations have greater rates of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). This is likely due to the high prevalence of bed-sharing where there has been smoking in pregnancy – a combination that is a major contributor to risk,” says Professor Taylor.
Both bed-sharing and smoking have proved difficult to change and thus the wahakura was developed as a culturally appropriate alternative to direct bed-sharing.
Dr David Tipene-Leach says: “The wahakura is promoted to provide a separate and safer sleep space for baby that can be used in the shared bed and therefore that allows the valued close proximity for mother and baby.”
While wahakura are used by many, to date there has been no direct evidence about their safety.
Researchers recruited 200 predominantly Māori pregnant women from deprived areas of New Zealand as measured by the NZ Deprivation Index. They provided the women with either a wahakura or bassinet during pregnancy and then later compared the risks and benefits of infants sleeping in either device. They investigated breastfeeding, infant sleep position, the amount of infant head covering during sleep, the amount of bed-sharing (without the device), and maternal sleep and fatigue.
Associate Professor Baddock says mothers were asked to sleep babies in either a bassinet or wahakura from birth. At 1, 3 and 6 months mothers completed questionnaires about babies’ sleep and at one month infra-red video was used to record the baby’s overnight sleep.
“Overnight video of the babies sleeping in the devices identified no increase in head covering, prone/side sleep position or bed-sharing (without the device) in the wahakura group, either when analysed according to allocated device or when analysed according to the device baby slept in on the study night,” she says.
When the groups were compared according to allocated device there were no differences at 1, 3 and 6 months in infant-adult direct bed-sharing, but at the six-month interview the wahakura group reported twice the level of full breastfeeding.
“These findings will give comfort to health workers who will be able to confidently promote a device that encourages a form of bed-sharing that increases safety for infants,” Dr Tipene-Leach says.
The Ministry of Health is currently developing a national Safe Sleep programme and this study provides much-needed evidence about the wahakura.
News article courtesy of the University of Otago
21 December 2016
Dr Palatasa Havea has been confirmed as the new chair of the HRC Pacific Health Research Committee.
Palatasa has a PhD in food technology from Massey University and is a senior research scientist at Fonterra in Palmerston North. He has invented several technologies at Fonterra that have resulted in the commercialisation of nutritional dairy products (10 patents) aimed at addressing some of the major nutritional and health issues in many parts of the world.
Palatasa, who is of Tongan descent, has been a member of the HRC Pacific Health Research Committee since December 2012. He has also been very active in the New Zealand Pasifika community, serving on a range of boards, committees, and reference groups. He recently stepped down from the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs Advisory Council, where he served for 13 years and chaired for the past three years.
Palatasa takes over the HRC Pacific committee chair role from Dr Mele Taumoepeau. Mele, a senior lecturer at the University of Otago's Psychology Department, has been a HRC Pacific Health Research Committee member since 2000 and served as its chair from 2014 to 2016. She has provided outstanding leadership, expertise and knowledge and will be greatly missed.
The HRC Pacific Health Research Committee also welcomes Dr Ofa Dewes to its team. Ofa is an affiliate investigator of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery and a research fellow at the School of Nursing, University of Auckland. Her research interests include Pacific ethnic-specific studies across the lifespan, especially in health equity, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and ageing.
Ofa was recently awarded a two-year project grant from the National Science Challenge for 'Ageing Well'. Here she will lead a research team investigating older Pacific people's experiences in palliative care, and the challenges faced by their aiga (family) who carry out the bulk of their care. She will also be a co-researcher on another 'Ageing Well' study led by Auckland University of Technology to understand what factors older Pacific people consider important for their wellbeing.
Ofa is Fiji-born of Rotuman, Tongan, and Tuvaluan ethnicity, with affiliation to Ngati Porou.
14 December 2016
We are pleased to welcome a new member to the HRC's Pacific Health Research Committee, Auckland University of Technology Senior Research Fellow Dr El-Shadan Tautolo.
Dr Tautolo's primary area of research specialisation is the health and well-being of Pacific families and communities in New Zealand. He has a strong association with the HRC, having completed a HRC Pacific PhD Scholarship and a HRC Pacific Postdoctoral Fellowship. Both of these studies focused on how Pacific fathers influence the development of their children.
Dr Tautolo is currently director of the Centre for Pacific Health and Development Research and the Pacific Islands Families (PIF) Study, an ongoing birth cohort study of 1398 Pacific families, based in South Auckland, New Zealand.
Dr Tautolo was born and raised in South Auckland, but has always maintained strong links to his Samoan and Cook Island heritage. He says one of the most rewarding parts of his research is reporting back to Pacific communities and inspiring the next generation through his mentoring work.
13 December 2016
A small segment of the population accounts for a disproportionate share of costly service use across a society’s health care, criminal justice, and social welfare systems – and paediatric tests of brain health can identify these adults as young as age three, new findings out of the University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study suggest.
The Dunedin Study is an internationally renowned research programme that has followed the progress of 1000 children born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972-73, from birth to midlife. The latest findings are newly published in the international journal Nature Human Behaviour.
With study members’ permission, the research team analysed government administrative databases and electronic medical records. The team, which included Dunedin Study Director Professor Richie Poulton, found that nearly 80 per cent of adult economic burden can be attributed to just 20 per cent of the study members.
The researchers determined that this “high cost” group accounted for 81 per cent of criminal convictions, 66 per cent of welfare benefits, 78 per cent of prescription fills and 40 per cent of excess obese kilograms.
Professor Poulton says that they also found that members of this group can be identified with high accuracy when still young children.
At age three, each study member took part in a paediatric examination that included a neurological evaluation and assessments of verbal comprehension, language development, motor skills, and social behaviour. Looking back at the test results, the team found that scoring poorly on these tests was a good predictor of going on to be in the “high cost” group.
“We also found that members of this group tended to have grown up in more socioeconomically deprived environments, experienced child maltreatment, scored poorly on childhood IQ tests and exhibited low childhood self-control,” he says.
Professor Poulton says that the strong connection between early-childhood development and costly adult outcomes underscores the need for preventive health and education programmes for children and families.
“Those working in social services have long observed that some individuals use more than their share of services, but this is the first evidence that the same group of individuals feature in multiple service sectors and that they can be identified as young children, with reasonable accuracy,” he says.
In their paper, the researchers write that they “are aware of the potential for misusing these findings, for stigmatising and stereotyping. But there is no merit in blaming a person for economic burden following from childhood disadvantage.”
Instead, tackling the effects of childhood disadvantage through early-years support for families and children could benefit all members of a society by reducing costs.
The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit received funding for the study from the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
For the full factsheet about the study, see the University of Otago's website.
News article courtesy of the University of Otago