A medical expert says there may be scope to re-evaluate the way we measure obesity.
Research data gathered from more than 253,000 children reveals a child's family and neighbourhood conditions account for half of the differences in obesity between Maori and European kids.
Co-author and Otago University Dean of Medical School Barry Taylor told Kate Hawkesby the impact on someone's health is great enough, without added social and emotional burden.
"Being an unhealthy weight tracks through childhood and through into adolescence. That produces higher rates of heart disease and stroke in particular, but also quite a lot of teasing and emotional upset."
Taylor says there's a range of other factors such as genetics and fitness that also need to be considered.
This could lead to us changing how we examine childhood weight.
"We know that Pacific children have bigger bones and stronger muscles, we should be thinking much more carefully about whether they are truly obese or using some other simple measure such as a weight circumference."