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Teenage food decisions

Healthy Start to Life Education for Adolescents: Healthy-LEAP

Tereora College Students resized

From 2014 to 2016 students from three schools in Rarotonga participated in the Pacific Science for Health Literacy Project (PSHLP) Healthy Start to Life learning programmes. Year 9 students explored social, scientific and community evidence to investigate the impact of our food environment from before we are born on our health and wellbeing throughout life. The programmes were integrated into core learning in a range of subjects including science, social studies and health. 

Using implementation science we explored the impact of the programmes on the development of capabilities that support active and engaged citizenship, and on health-related attitudes and behaviours. This showed that the programmes encouraged engagement in learning and supported the development of capabilities that enable students to seek out and explore evidence about issues impacting their families and community.  

  • Self-reported nutritional behaviour prior to the programmes matched existing national adolescent data. 
  • A significant proportion of students reporting baseline nutritional behaviours associated with increased health risks made and sustained positive changes in relation to junk foods. 
  • However, patterns of fruit and vegetable consumption remained similar to those in the adult population where less than 15% of people achieve 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables each day. 
  • Focus-group evidence confirmed that the reported behaviour changes represented intentional responses to the learning programmes. 
PSHLP Evidence Slide 1 2017
PSHLP Evidence slide 2 2017
PSHLP Evidence Slide 3 2017

What influences teenager food behaviours? A case study from Rarotonga

Poster title ......... Poster Title...... To download the poster.......

In 2016.........(tell it as a story)


The research team identified a number of enablers that supported teenagers making healthy food choices, as well as barriers preventing teenagers from making healthy food choices.


This study provides Tereora College and other local schools with evidence that could facilitate further exploration of these reported enablers and barriers within the staff, student and parent communities that may contribute to policy and practice.


 Students found the programmes interesting and they engaed well in their learningthat some students made and sustained healthy food choices, while others did not. Therefore, the PSHLP research team wanted to carry out a smaller case study to explore in-depth the factors influencing food choices of Rarotongan teenagers.


Thirteen students from Tereora College Year 10 took part in this case study in 2017. Each student completed a three-day food and activity diary. An interview with the student and another with their parent/caregiver were also carried out. 


This case study was conducted by Heimata Herman as part of a Masters in Health Sciences degree at the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland. Heimata graduated with MHSc (Hons) in 2018. 

In the video Heimata shares her story and explains the methods used in the case study as well as the outcomes. 

As well as providing important evidence for Cook Islands communities, this study has allowed Heimata to achieve her goal of a Masters degree, from which she can launch into the next phase of her career supporting the health of Pacific communities.  


This study is a collaboration between the Cook Islands Ministries of Education and Health and the Liggins Institute. The study was made possible through the generosity of the participating teenagers, their families, and their school communities. 

Funding was provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade International Partnerships for Development Fund and the Health Research Council of New Zealand. 

The studies reported on this page were conducted with approval from the Cook Islands Research Committee (Ref. 05/14 and Ref. 05/14a) and the University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee (Ref. 011207 and Ref. 019358).

Contact Details

Dr Jacquie Bay |