Finding NZ’S healthiest community
For the past two years I have been travelling New Zealand in my retro Chevy ambulance, trying to help Kiwis be healthier and happier.
From Kaitaia to Bluff, Ruatoria to Greymouth and Taranaki I have met a wide range of people, measured their blood pressure, diabetes and stress levels gained insights into what makes them tick and taken the pulse of many communities.
It has been a different journey from when I have been the local doctor. the ambulance at the top of the cliff, rather than the bottom. Heartland rugby championship game.
Despite a record losing streak even worse than the Auckland Blues, and having among the worst health stats in the country, some of the people on the East Coast are the happiest I have met.
With a smile as wide as the cape itself, a firm handshake and a customary hongi, I have never been made so welcome. This is Ngati Porou country, they are proud of it, it is who they are.
The name of the small Stabicraft we follow to a remote beach down a rugged river is emblazoned NO STRESS. People wave as they drive, a far cry from the urban traffic.
Far from the madding crowd lies D’urville Island, an oasis at the tip of the Marlborough sounds. By far the healthiest community I have found in Aotearoa. With pristine bays, reefs and forests that match their pristine blood tests and clean liver scans, wild deer on the road and tuataras under the house, the hospitality matches Ruatoria.
Being connected is one of the ways to improving your wellbeing, and the isolation of these communities strengthens their connection.
Generations have grown old together and raised kids that have no fear of stranger danger. The common theme is that it is what most of New Zealand was like 50 years ago.
I am sure at times not all is well in the apparent Gardens of Eden, but the sense of community is as palpable as the pulsatile aortas I have felt while doing surgery.
Fast food, fast internet and rush hour traffic that does anything but rush the blood to your head from a sense of pressure.
The difference between urban and rural wellbeing is interesting.
I have developed a tool to measure the difference between physical, mental and social wellbeing.
Over 25 years as a doctor has taught me that wellbeing is made of many components, so if you can measure it , you can manage it.
The machines we have measure fat and sugar content in the blood of Westies in Henderson, Coasters in Greymouth, East Coasters in Tokomaru Bay Forests, Islanders in Marlborough and tradies in Southland.
What is striking is that further you are away from fast, fatty food, and fizzy drinks, generally the healthier your blood tests are.
Farmers have higher lipid fat levels in their blood and lower levels of diabetes. We are what we eat, and what our genes determine. Even vegans can have high cholesterol due to genetics.
As the sun rises on Mt Hikurangi and the mighty Ngati Porou East Coast still seek their first rugby win, the ambulance rolls out of town, bound for Te Araroa and then Tokoroa, the wellbeing mission continues, taking the pulse of the country.
Dr Tom, a man on a mission.