Overweight is a national health crisis. Late in 2017, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that about 18.5 percent of U.S. children and 36 percent of U.S. adults were obese. The Center characterized obesity as an epidemic crisis. Obesity is the highest part of the scale for measuring Body Mass Index (BMI >30). A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight and normal weights fall between 18.5 to 24.9. In seeking remedies to obesity, the family is viewed as the critical player. Potential family solutions cited were: avoiding fast foods, eating healthy meals and engaging in physical activities as a family. In 2013, Hawai‘i’s Health Department reported about 24 percent (23.8%), of Hawai‘i’s adults were obese. About 41 percent (40.8%) of Native Hawaiian adults were obese and, Hawai‘i’s Chinese population had the lowest overall rate of obesity, at less-than 7 percent. The U.S. food supply, the high-availability of poor food choices, as well as changes in food habits are all problems that allow for dietary over-consumption and empty-calories. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes mellitus and atherosclerosis are health conditions directly related to poor food choices and food excesses.
There is great concern for Native Hawaiians who face serious health risks associated with overweight. The concern is that more Native Hawaiians die from these health conditions…every year. Overweight is the first step toward the greater health harms listed above. And, if alcohol consumption is involved, the list of risks grows longer. Excessive alcohol intake can cause overweight and, alcohol is closely linked to cirrhosis of the liver, several cancers, suicides and accidents. Importantly, overweight and obesity are signals to us that, change is needed, to avoid greater internal harm.
Seeking solutions leads, quickly, to a focus on daily exercise, food choices and eating practices as primary concerns for overweight individuals. As Hawaiians, we can look to our kūpuna as sources of wisdom…and solutions. Granted, our kūpuna had different problems…than ours in 2019. However, they dealt with a lot, as well. Mary Kawena Pukui, tells us, our ancestors were thoughtfully concerned, daily, with maintaining sound bodies. Their lives depended on staying uninjured, mobile, strong and healthy. They focused on keeping healthy strong bodies throughout life. Clear and vivid descriptions of our ancestors, left by the first foreign visitors to Hawai‘i, describe our kūpuna as tall, strong, muscular, with upright postures and the ability for a lot of hard work. Adopting…or, at least, serious considering our kūpuna’s standards today, can help us deal with overweight and other health challenges.
U.S. health experts point to American food choices as the cause of many chronic illnesses, and they note the increased cost of caring for individuals with food-related illnesses in the U.S., every year. Health experts agree that making appropriate lifestyle choices can have powerful impacts on regaining health. Cancer of the lungs and colon (intestinal tract) cause the greatest health damage to Hawaiians, today. Thus, stopping cigarette-smoking, adding daily exercise and eating green and orange-colored vegetables are keys to restoring health, and staying illness-free. Our ancestral diet was almost 80 percent vegetables, including, taro, lū‘au, palula, poi, sweet potato, ‘ulu, greens and limu. Today, we eat too much meat…and far too much processed meats (Spam, hotdogs, sausages, etc.), totaling, two times the protein that our ancestors ate, and far less food from the garden and the sea. Fish is far superior to canned meats, sausage, excesses of beef, pork or egg protein. Eating more like our ancestors will bring positive change to your health.
We need to heed the wisdom of our kūpuna and return to sources of Hawaiian health.