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The HAPPY Study

This study explored health-related attitudes and practices of thirteen year-olds from Tamaki College in East Auckland and Tonga High School in Nuku'alofa. The built-food environment surrounding each school was also mapped. 

High rates of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are commonly found in low and middle-income nations, as well as low socio-economic communities in high income nations. Glen Innes, a suburb in East Auckland is impacted by socio-economic challenges as well as high rates of overweight, obesity and associated non-communicable diseases. Nuku'alofa is the capital city of Tonga, situated on the island of Tongatapu. Tonga is a middle-income nation impacted by significant socio-economic challenges and very high rates of overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases.

The study found a high level of awareness of non-communicable diseases and their impact in 13-year-old students from East Auckland and Nuku'alofa in Tonga. Students in both schools reported that purchasing lunch from school and surrounding food-stores was usual. Mapping of the built food environment demonstrated that students had very poor access to healthy food choices in stores within a one kilometre radius of each school. The quality of foods sold in most shops within both environments were categorised as unhealthy. Assessment of food consumption practices demonstrated that healthy food choices were not common for students in either location.

This study provides participating schools with a snapshot of student dietary practices and the surrounding built-food environment. It offers opportunities for discussions with students and the community about the impact of the built-food environment on dietary practices. Teachers have identified that the food-store mapping method could be used as a learning activity to stimulate critical thinking about food availability, choices and the impact of this on health and wellbeing. 

The HAPPY Study was conducted by Alvina Pauuvale as part of a Masters in Health Sciences degree at the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland.

In the video, Alvina shares her story and explains the methods used in the study and outcomes.

Alvina has presented the study findings back to the participating schools.

Alvina graduated with an MHSc(Hons) in 2018. She was awarded a Health Research Council of New Zealand Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarship and will undertake her PhD at the Liggins Institute from 2019 to 2022. 

HAPPY study video


This study is a collaboration between Tamaki College, Tonga High School 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, the Norman F Barry Foundation, the Sir Mont Liggins Memorial Scholarship and the Kate Edgar Educational Charitable Trust Award.  

The studies reported on this page were conducted with approval from the University of Auckland Human Participants Ethics Committee (Ref. 011207 and Ref. 019603).

Contact Details

Dr Jacquie Bay |