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Team effort

The American Diabetes Association’s Hawaii branch reaches out to businesses to raise awareness and funds

By Amy Busek

LAST UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

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The Hawaii branch of the American Diabetes Association has a new face for corporate recruitment: Howard Lee, president of insurance company University Health Alliance.

Lee's job is mainly to increase awareness of diabetes within workplaces through educational seminars. His responsibilities also include raising more than half a million dollars from corporate sponsors and increasing participation in the ADA's annual diabetes prevention walk, with the goal of soliciting some 2,300 newcomers.

"We're working to get on the same path by educating employees," said Leslie Lam, executive director of the local ADA. (We want them to) understand diabetes more than they did prior."

Diabetes, which is caused by lackluster or malfunctioning insulin production in the pancreas, is diagnosed every 17 seconds in America, according to an ADA news release. There are different types of diabetes, though the most common are type 1 or type 2.

Type 1 is often called juvenile diabetes and occurs typically in younger people who are otherwise healthy. Type 2, on the other hand, is also referred to as adult-onset diabetes and is caused by unhealthy eating and lack of exercise over a long period of time, as well as inherited genetic risks.

The workplace classes taught by the ADA target preventive measures against type 2 diabetes.

The UHA has a long-standing relationship with diabetes education. According to Linda Kala­hiki, UHA chief marketing officer, the business promotes diabetes education throughout its workplace and encourages employees' participation in the ADA's Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes.

Lee said he hopes to enlist some 300 local businesses, ranging from banks to educational institutions, into donating time and money for the walk in March.

"We've sponsored this walk for years," Kala­hiki said. "We're talking to (businesses) that we already have professional relationships with."

Wellness is a top priority at UHA, Kala­hiki said. Employees are given Fitbits —personal exercise and sleep monitors that are worn around the ankle or wrist — as an encouragement toward healthier lifestyles.

"You cannot have a thriving business without thriving employees," Lam said.

"Diabetes has such an impact on Hawaii," Kala­hiki said, "the Hawaiian population in particular."

According to an ADA press release, several of the islands' ethnic groups are prone to diabetes.

"There are over 20,000 Native Hawaiians living with diabetes, followed closely in statistics by Filipinos and Japa­nese," Dr. Dee Ann Carpenter, president of the ADA's Community Leadership Board, said in a news release. "The current trend must be stopped, but funding for critical research is needed."

The ADA allows companies to customize the type of diabetes education they want to receive through classes like Diabetes 101 and Stop Diabetes at Work. Some places request dietitians; others, endocrinologists — and the ADA works to accommodate them through networking with community specialists, Lam said.

At one Oahu law office that connected with the ADA, many attorneys were parents who wished to learn more about healthy eating for children, Lam said.

"There were 40 attorneys listening so intently," Lam said. "(They were asking), ‘How do you make good choices about your children?'"

Lam said pre-diabetes education could arguably be the most important aspect of education for Hawaii workplaces. She said people are often oblivious about carbohydrate and sugar intake and could be pre-diabetic without even knowing it.

"If you catch pre-diabetes at the onset, you can change the outcome of your life," Lam said.

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First Insurance, Jani-King, Kahala Nui »

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