Adults on Molokai currently have the highest rate of smoking, binge drinking and obesity when compared to others in Maui County, according to the latest Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) –the largest continuously conducted telephone health survey in the world. For many residents, those habits can mean shorter lifespans, restricted activity and less fulfilling lives. But there are many programs on the island that can assist those looking to make a change and help improve those statistics.
Last week, the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) hosted a town hall meeting at Kulana `Oiwi Halau to discuss ways to reduce tobacco use, eat healthier, stay physically active and manage or prevent chronic diseases.
“Obesity and lack of physical activity is an important issue not only on Molokai but the rest of the state and the nation,” said Gregg Kishaba, DOH Chronic Disease Management & Control Branch Coordinator. “Obesity increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, respiratory problems, and osteoarthritis.”
To address these issues, the DOH hoped to get local feedback for community, educational and workplace settings and health systems. Ideas ranged from educating parents about nutrition to establishing better bicycle lanes along local roads.
The DOH is hosting similar strategic plan meetings around the state before developing a five-year plan to address the prevalence of chronic disease in Hawaii. They plan to publish a formal plan of action this July.
In the meantime, the Dispatch took a look at some programs currently operating on Molokai to help residents lead a healthier life.
Molokai Weight Loss Challenge
Three years ago, Molokai resident Lester Keanini was diagnosed morbidly obese with diabetes, and at the age of 32, given five years to live.
After deciding he needed to change his lifestyle, he found a program via the Internet called Herbalife, which made all the difference for him.
Today, Keanini is 147 pounds lighter and in the best shape he has been in in years. He and his wife, Roxie, started the Molokai Weight Loss Challenge in 2011 for residents of the island who want to not only lose weight, but live better. They currently have over 60 graduates of the program, according to Lester.
“Because the product saved my life, I just wanted to return what I learned back to the people of Molokai,” said Lester.
The Weight Loss Challenge is a 12-week “Biggest Loser”-type program, in which participants meet once a week for 30-40 minutes to learn about nutrition, keep track of their “weigh-ins” and motivate each other in the process of leading a healthier lifestyle. At the end of each challenge, the top three participants who lose the most weight (by percentages) win a cash prize.
Kehau Puaa, who won the latest Kaunakakai area challenge with a loss of 19.2 pounds, said the program has helped her change her lifestyle.
“Roxie and Lester are really dedicated to helping you, even after the program is over,” said Puaa. “For me, I had back problems so losing that weight has definitely helped ease some of those problems.”
“A lot of locals think it’s because of their heritage, but we determine how healthy we are,” said Wellness Coach Roxie Keanini, who also took part in the program and lost 30 pounds in six weeks.
There are currently three classes available to Molokai residents –Kaunakakai, Kilohana and Maunaloa. For more info, call Roxie and Lester at 808-658-9991.
Na Pu`uwai Fitness Center
Since its inception in 1990, Na Pu`uwai has spearheaded the planning for a Native Hawaiian Health Care System for the islands of Molokai and Lanai, according to its website. Thirty-two years later, that healthcare system has extended to a variety of services ranging from cancer awareness to women’s health education – and a fitness center on Molokai.
“Through Na Pu`uwai’s existence, a lot more people are exercising,” said Peter Pale, fitness trainer and five-time Molokai Strong Man. “Since I’ve worked here for the past 12 years, I see that a lot more people are active.”
The fitness center, located just west of Kaunakakai, hosts a wide range of equipment from muscle-building machines like bench-presses and weights to cardiovascular machines like treadmills and ellipticals. In addition, the center offers weekly zumba and ballroom dancing classes.
“I like all the equipment and variety,” said Ceri Espiritu, who has been coming to the gym since 2007. “You can do different workouts with different parts of your body.”
“It’s a matter of just jumping in and making a commitment,” said Ricky Morris, who has worked as an assistant fitness trainer at the center for eight years. “You work hard, you look good, you feel good and you start to do good.”
For more info on Na Pu`uwai’s programs, call 560-3653.
Molokai Community Health Center
Health is not necessarily indicated by a number on the scale, according to Dr. Kawika Liu, co-medical director for Molokai Community Health Center (MCHC), adding there is such a thing as “healthy overweight.” At the same time, just because you are skinny does not mean you are healthy either, said the doctor.
“For Native Hawaiians, obesity is just a symptom of underlying issues involving chronic stress and historical trauma dating back to the Mahele in 1848,” he explained.
Emotional health directly affects physical health, said Liu – an area many Molokai residents need to improve. Liu also recommends all patients look into their genealogy, especially for health records. By understanding where you came from, you can understand who you are and what you may be dealing with, consciously or subconsciously, he said.
Cultural Health Navigator Kanoe Davis estimates that MCHC currently has about 200 patients that have been diagnosed as obese. She hopes to create more programs that focus on diseases like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, she said. For now, she often refers patients suffering from obesity and diabetes to hula or lomilomi for more culturally-based holistic healings.
“Our goal is not to pinpoint just one or two issues, but to heal everything,” said Davis. “The focus should be on creating a sustainable lifestyle and not take our health for granted.”
For more information, visit molokaichc.org.
Molokai General Hospital
MGH offers the only emergency health care on the island, among many diagnostic services, primary care partnerships and visiting specialists. It is the hospital staff’s responsibility to educate patients when treating them, said physical therapist Brianne Childs, via email.
“The physical therapy department educates and informs the patient on the effects that weight has on the body’s joints,” she explained. “For every pound that a person is overweight, it will feel like 4 pounds bearing down on the knee and back joints.”
She recommends 30 minutes, five days a week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) and muscle strengthening activities at least two days a week. Additionally, she encourages residents to be conscientious of what they consume.
“One of the best ways to exercise is walking because it doesn’t require equipment and can be done almost anywhere,” she said. “I encourage everyone to…get up and move to improve your health.”
For more info, visit molokaigeneralhospital.org/Physical_Therapy.php.
There are a number of other health and fitness programs available to Molokai residents as well.
Since 2010, the Coronary Health Improvement Project (CHIP) has helped people lead healthier lifestyles through diet and exercise. Hosted by Molokai Seventh-day Adventist Church in conjunction with Na Pu`uwai, the four-week program offers educational lectures, peer discussions and cooking demonstrations. For more info, call Brenda Kaneshiro at 558-8204.
The 90-day Fitness Challenge (ViSalus) was only brought to Molokai in January of this year, but Molokai promoter Hawaiiloa Mowat is confident in its efficiency. “The program challenges people to lead a lifestyle of fitness,” he said. “Our body can heal itself from eating a nutritious diet and exercising.” For more info, visit shakespeare.myvi.net or call 213-4596.