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Isle obesity fight focuses on youth
A national report finds isle adults in better shape than in other states, but isle youth are lagging
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A new national report confirms that Hawaii adults tend to be slimmer than people who live elsewhere in the country.
Only Colorado has a lower rate of fat adults than Hawaii, according to the report -- "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America, 2008."
That's not necessarily saying much, since more than half -- 55.3 percent -- of Hawaii adults were either overweight or obese, according to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control. About one in five, or 20.7 percent of adults here, were considered obese.
About 15.6 percent of high school students in Hawaii were obese last year, according to the report, ranking Hawaii's teenagers as among the fattest in the nation.
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When compared with people in other states, Hawaii's adults have always tended to be leaner.
But health experts say Hawaii's children are not as fit and that could lead to problems in the future.
"It (obesity) really starts at a young age," said Lola Irvin, the Tobacco Settlement Project Manager for the state Department of Health.
If the trend continues, Irvin said, "We'll see more obesity and more chronic disease."
A new report released yesterday suggests obesity rates will continue to increase here and nationwide unless state and national governments make fighting the battle of the bulge more of a priority.
How fat is Hawaii?
20.7 percent are obese
55.3 percent are overweight or obese
7.7 percent have diabetes
18.9 percent do not engage in any exercise
26.1 percent suffer from hypertension
15.6 percent of high school students are obese
29.9 percent of high school students are overweight or obese
65.7 percent of high school students are not meeting the recommended level of physical activity
13.3 percent of children ages 10-17 are obese
Source: Trust for America's Health
"America's future depends on the health of our country. The obesity epidemic is lowering our productivity and dramatically increasing our health care costs," said Jeff Levi, the executive director of the Trust for America's Health, which put out the annual F as in Fat report.
"Our analysis shows that we're not treating the obesity epidemic with the urgency it deserves," he said.
Hawaii ranks 24th highest in Type 2 diabetes, with 7.7 percent of the population affected, and it ranks 30th highest for high blood pressure, the report said.
That's part of the reason the state has a Healthy Hawaii Initiative, Irvin said.
The initiative is funded by the state's share of the Tobacco Settlement Fund. Last fiscal year, the Health Department got about $14 million, Irvin said.
Part of the money was spent on tobacco prevention and the rest went to the Healthy Hawaii Initiative, which funds a number of nutrition and physical education programs.
The most visible aspect of the initiative are the television, radio and print ads, some featuring Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, to promote healthier eating and physical activity.
About $1.2 million went to a partnership between the Department of Health and the Department of Education that funds training for teachers, cafeteria workers and managers, teaching materials and staff to improve nutrition and physical education in public schools.
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Keeping fit, Varouny Sybounmy jogged yesterday just before sunset at Ala Moana Beach Park.
The money is also used to get matching federal funds for childhood nutrition efforts, Irvin said.
"We're trying to intervene at an early age," she said.
Irvin said the public schools are in the middle of a four-year rollout of new nutrition guidelines that will, among other things, improve the quality of school lunches and prohibit sales of candy and other foods that don't meet nutrition guidelines for school fundraisers.
The Fattest States:
Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina
The Leanest States:
Colorado, Hawaii, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont
Sources: F as in Fat, Trust for America's Health
"It (fighting obesity) is a long-term battle," said Jay Maddock, director of the Office of Public Health Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "You gotta get up every day and be active and be healthy every day."
Maddock said studies show kids who are physically active do better academically in school.
But, he said, "we have one of the lowest rates of P.E. in the nation. ... We're one of only three states that doesn't have competitive sports in middle school."
Gov. Linda Lingle had proposed a bill that would have required public school students get a minimum of between 45 minutes to one hour of physical education each day. But the bill failed to pass the Legislature.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.