A year ago Pastor Cliff Wadsworth weighed 225kg, wore XXXXXXXXXL shirts, drank five litres of soft drink every day and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
"I was told by my doctor that if I didn't change, my days were numbered, " he says.
A year later and 103kg lighter at the urging of his congregation, Mr Wadsworth is using the altar of his Otara church to preach the importance of fighting obesity among Pacific Islanders.
"Obesity is . . . one of our epidemics in our communities. People are really inspired by what has happened. We are seeing a lot of people in the congregation lose a lot of weight."
Most Pacific Islanders are Christians and they have the highest rates of obesity in the country.
Auckland University School of Population Health research fellow Dr Ofa Dewes believes the church has a vital role in addressing obesity in the Polynesian community.
"The church is a social organisation that is very important to Pacific people. I believe the church has a major role to play and one of the important elements to drive the change."
Dr Dewes was part of a three-year Obesity Prevention in Children intervention programme that sought to lower obesity in young people in New Zealand, Australia, Tonga and Fiji through education on healthy eating.
While effective in Australia, reducing obesity by around 6 per cent, the same approach in Fiji, Tonga and South Auckland had no effect.
The study unveiled socio-cultural barriers to healthy eating in the Pacific community where positive values like respect, love and status are expressed through eating lots of food.
"Food is what brings people together, " Mr Wadsworth says.
"Now we have to do things a little bit differently."
He cut all the sugar and carbohydrate from his diet and focused on protein and natural fats. Walking to the end of the road used to be exhausting; now he can walk the "100 steps" in Totara Park 20 times.
"The last time I was this weight I was 13 years old. It's like being a teenager again."
The weight loss has been life- changing for the pastor. His relationship with his wife and kids has completely changed.
"It is not until you lose the weight [that] you realise how awkward it was."
Dr Dewes has seen weight loss have a similar effect on the greater Pacific community, especially children.
"In a matter of weeks you can see a transformation in their attitudes, confidence and how they perceive themselves. They are taking ownership of their health."
But it starts with leaders and Mr Wadsworth has motivated his community to get healthy.
"Big people don't like small people telling them to lose weight.
"But when big people see other big people lose weight, it's inspiring."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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