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Hawaiian Health Center Promotes Healthy Lifestyles

Jennifer Martin, CSREES Staff, (202) 720-8188
Patrick Holian, CSREES Staff, (202) 720-5280

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2006– Native Hawaiians have some of the highest rates of obesity and related chronic diseases in the nation with more than 30 percent classified as obese.

The cause appears to be a trend of moving away from traditional native foods to more American foods, which are higher in fat and calorie content. Rather than eating fresh bananas, coconuts, taro, yams, breadfruit, pork, chicken and fish, Hawaiians now consume more processed foods than their bodies are genetically able to handle, predisposing them to obesity.

CSREES awarded an $800,000 National Research Initiative (NRI) grant to the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center (WCCHC) on the island of Oahu to search for solutions to this health crisis. The study will determine whether lifestyle changes can reduce the prevalence of obesity among native Hawaiians.

“We have some of the highest prevalence of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and hypertension,” said Sheila Beckham, preventive health services director at WCCHC. “We're basically trying to improve health and reduce the horrible impact of obesity and diabetes.”

According to Christine McLaurin, who was diagnosed with diabetes in June 2004, the health center has renewed her life. When she joined the lifestyle enhancement program at WCCHC, McLaurin weighed 250 pounds. The center's staff helped her develop healthy eating habits and begin an exercise routine. She has lost 40 pounds and plans to get her weight down to 175.

The health center staff also networks with community farmers who provide fresh food for the center's Pavilion restaurant. The arrangement also benefits local producers in Waianae, the poorest community of Oahu. There are plans to establish a local farmers market.

“Every week we deliver some stuff, and that's a good income for us because it's a way to survive,” said Gigi Cocquio, a local farmer. Cocquio grows corn, beans, lettuce, radishes, green onions, peanuts and a range of different fruits that he sells to the health center. “[Health center employees] touch thousands of people and through them, people start to realize that there's a different way of living.”

WCCHC‘s efforts are the focus of the January episode of CSREES' Partners Video Magazine. It highlights the programs and accomplishments of the partnership between CSREES and the Land-Grant University System in the areas of research, education and extension.

The NRI is the largest peer reviewed, competitive grants program in CSREES. It supports research, education and extension grants that address key problems of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of agriculture.