"Today's younger generation will not outlive the generation before them."
That was the chilling message delivered by Mike Morris, president and CEO of the Maui Family YMCA and board chair of the Maui Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition (NPAC) at the Tuesday, Feb. 21, meeting of the Kihei Community Association held at the Lipoa Street campus of Kihei Charter School.
Sandra McGuiness, the Maui County coordinator for NPAC, an organization that got its start four years ago, stated her view of healthy eating directly and to the point. "The closer we get to dirt, the better the food is for us," she said, urging the audience to avoid processed foods that tend to have a high sugar, salt and cholesterol content.
Maui County Councilmember Don Couch (left to right), Hawai’i Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition Maui County Coordinator Sandra McGuinness, Maui Family YMCA President and CEO Mike Morris, and Kihei Community Association President Jon Miller discuss how the health of the community can be improved through changes in policies and systems.
"We are not as active as we should be, and we don't eat as well as we should," Morris said. "One result is that diabetes is showing up in younger people, and it used to be an old man's disease."
Morris pointed out that the cost to treat diabetes is projected to be $191 billion over the next 10 years--a cost that could be reduced significantly with an investment of $83 million in prevention programs.
According to Morris, 98 to 99 percent of medical costs in the U.S. are spent on treatment and only 1 to 2 percent on prevention.
Morris literally puts his mouth where his money is, having helped start the "Y Produce Express" program at his agency and 20 other business sites. The program makes weekly deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables, pre-ordered from Kula Country Farms.
At the YMCA, healthcare premiums are 100 percent paid for employees--only if they take their annual exams and have mammograms and other preventative medical tests. If an employee declines, the YMCA will only pay for 50 percent of their medical premium.
In her role as the Maui County NPAC coordinator, McGuiness oversees a program that includes a diverse 14-member board of directors ranging from Maui Memorial Medical Center to Chris Hart and Partners (Planners and Landscape Architects) and the Hawaiian health organization Ke Ola Hou O Lana'i.
NPAC's mission is to improve the quality of life of Maui County residents by reducing obesity and chronic disease by promoting healthy eating and physical activity through environmental and policy changes, education and awareness.
The coalition's priorities are the built environment, worksite wellness programs and nutrition.
One aspect of the built environment being addressed by NPAC is the effort to increase transportation options for walking and biking.
"Any type of development must consider all types of transportation," McGuiness said. "We are becoming too auto-centric." She added, "Reducing auto use by 1, 2 or 3 percent would be tremendous."
When considering the development of a healthy built environment, NPAC considers several factors: the distance people travel to work, school and shopping; the safety and attractiveness of neighborhoods for walking; that they reflect the norms of a community around physical activity and healthy food consumption; and, does it create or reduce risk factors for poor air quality, unsafe walking and biking conditions or unsafe gathering places.
Healthy eating is being approached in the schools one principal at a time. The hope is to build a consensus that will ultimately influence school nutrition policies statewide.
Currently, individual schools cannot control the food served to their students at mealtime. Federal regulations, heavily influenced by lobbyists employed by school food vendors, do not allow healthy alternatives such as vegetables grown in school gardens to be added to the school menus.
However, parents and students can urge for the removal of soda and snack machines from school campuses.
Other simple steps include changing the layout of foods available to students at mealtime.
"We had a school put the fruit and vegetables in front and the hamburgers and French fries in back," Morris said. "The students had to ask for the hamburgers and fries. We saw a 200 percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption and it cost the school nothing."
While there may be laws that must be enacted to achieve nutrition goals, McGuiness noted that "change can be policy change and system change"--something as simple as putting the French-fries in the back row.
Also speaking at the meeting, South Maui County Councilmember Don Couch reported that a decision may come soon regarding the proposed removal of monkey pod trees from South Kihei Road. He also fielded questions about the planned outlet mall above Pi'ilani Highway--another issue that is becoming increasingly controversial in the community.
For more information on healthy communities and how to get involved, contact McGuiness at email@example.com or 264-7895.