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Karen Fukofuka

Karen Fukofuka 130x180I was born and brought up in Niue, a small Pacific island linked with New Zealand. I left Niue to complete my high school education. High school in Niue only went up to the 5th form then. So I spent two years in high school in New Zealand before going to Otago University in 1982.

As a Pacific Islander, I love food, from growing your own to preparation, to eating! When I was growing up, I wanted to be a physician like my dad, but was not really fully committed to it. While studying at university, my mum was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 43. This was 1985. Diabetes was very rare in Niue at that time. So my dad asked me if I would be interested in studying human nutrition, which I did. Since it was do with food I decided to take it up, and I have never looked back since then. My mum is 75 years old now and she only started taking insulin injections 5 years ago.

When my dad asked me about taking up nutrition, I started planning on becoming a clinical dietitian. It was not until I was completing my postgraduate diploma in dietetics that I really became interested in public health nutrition, and chose it for my dissertation paper. After completing my dietetic training, I worked briefly as a clinical dietitian seeing a few diabetic patients a day. It was very brief as I needed to take time off to have my sixth child.

While on maternity leave, I thought seriously about my profession and where I would make the most difference. I was one of a very few Pacific Island registered dietitians in New Zealand at that time, and diseases like diabetes and obesity were all becoming too common among Pacific people. When I was ready to rejoin the workforce again eight months later, I contacted my public health supervisor and she promptly offered me a job in public health. Thus began my career in public health.

I learned a lot from my dad. He was a firm believer in ‘prevention is better than cure’. To me public health nutrition is all about prevention – preventing ill health by eating healthily and being physically active.

Completed my Bachelor of Science degree, major in microbiology in 1985, and Bachelor in consumer and applied science, major in human nutrition in 1989. Registered New Zealand dietitian with a postgraduate diploma in dietetics, passed with distinctions in 2001. I completed my postgraduate diploma in public health from the University of Otago in 2005.

Currently working as the nutrition adviser for the secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), providing leadership and support in the area of nutrition to all 22 Pacific Island member countries. Before, manager of health promotion for the Wellington division of the Cancer Society, focusing on cancer prevention and promotion of healthy ways of life. Before that, coordinator for the nutrition and physical activity team for the Wellington area, working across three district health boards in the area of nutrition and physical activity.

Pacific representative on the steering committee for the national nutrition and also the national children survey. Member of the steering committee for the New Zealand Pacific diabetes project. I wrote the Nutrition Handbook for Health Professionals as part of this project. Board member for the New Zealand agencies for nutrition action, and also the obesity coalition.