As an employee of the University of Hawaii and the director for Get Fit Kauai, I spend my day helping (and hoping) to improve the health of our island’s communities and the people who reside in and visit them.
Given the recent troubling statistics related to Kauai’s obesity, physical inactivity and poor eating habits, I wish I could say that I was surprised by the disappointing reported population health outcomes and metrics. Unfortunately, I had a sneaking suspicion that our island’s results would document that more than half of Kauai’s adult population is overweight or obese and more than 25 percent get no physical activity in an average week. Additionally, more than 80 percent of us are not eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which is the amount that is recommended.
Clearly, what we have been doing isn’t working! As a community, we need to change the way we do business. Over and above encouraging our friends, families and co-workers to eat better and exercise more we must get to the root of the problem and start changing (demanding) policies that support healthier, active living.
At Get Fit Kauai, we are focusing our efforts and resources to facilitate these very important community health objectives by working with our public policymakers and community leaders to adopt positive, progressive local ordinances, codes, policies and standards that create healthier public infrastructure and workplaces.
By focusing on our community’s built environment, safer routes for children to walk and bicycle to school, increasing access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables, and healthier workplaces, we believe we can reverse the negative population health trends here on Kauai.
There is a strong body of research that shows the general connection between features of a community’s built environment and the growth in chronic health conditions, especially those tied to obesity, lack of physical activity and poor nutrition.
The research is becoming increasingly specific in its capacity to identify problems and causes and, more importantly, to compare and evaluate alternative designs and policy solutions.
From a public infrastructure perspective, one of our top and immediate priorities is more pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths here on Kauai. Rates of physical inactivity are reaching epidemic levels on our island, putting individuals at risk for obesity and associated health problems.
The general expectation is, and a large body of research has shown, that people who live in mixed residential and commercial use neighborhoods with pedestrian pathways walk more and, thus, get more daily exercise.
Also interestingly enough, the research documents that residents who live in neighborhoods where they must depend on cars for transportation have reduced physical activity and increased obesity rates.
My hat goes off to our mayor and his administration (planning, public works, housing, transportation and other departments), along with Kauai County Council for beginning to establish ordinances and roadway standards that support healthy eating and active living.
Access to more fruits and vegetables is also a priority for our Get Fit Kauai team.
Research has shown that people who live in a neighborhood with a supermarket or farmers’ market are more likely to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
We are going to work with local farmers and farm organizations like the Farm Bureau to bring forward a permanent farmers’ market venue here on Kauai where residents and visitors can access locally-grown produce and healthy Kauai-made value-added food products.
Finally, with the timing of the implementation of Affordable Care Act provisions that encourage health promotion and disease prevention, Get Fit Kauai is going to help Kauai’s employers adopt policies and workplaces that encourage healthier decisions for employees while working.
At Get Fit Kauai, we are committed to working with all Kauai stakeholders on a positive path forward for better health for our community.
• Bev Brody is director Get Fit Kauai, which goes by the mantra, ‘Supporting healthy eating and active living.’