Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Sunday, June 16, 2024 81° Today's Paper

Opportunity is here to aid health of our children

Holiday music’s playing.

We’re wrapping gifts and spending time with family.

But here’s one thought few think of at holiday parties:

Hawaii has one of the nation’s highest rates of obesity and chronic kidney disease.

And our children aren’t immune.

While most studies show our youth at low risk for obesity, a closer look by ethnicity shows a different picture. In a recent study of Hawaii high school students, 30.2 percent of Filipino-American and 24.3 percent of Japanese-American students were overweight or obese, along with 34.4 per- cent of Native Hawaiian students. And Pacific Islander students that do not identify as Native Hawaiian are hardest hit with 51.9 percent overweight or obese.

Studies show that obese children become obese adults. Obese adults struggle with chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression.

And states then struggle to cover the millions of dollars necessary to care for obese adults.

Happy holidays, indeed.

So where do we begin to reverse the effects of obesity? Our children.

If we equip them with information to make healthier choices, and create environments that help them lead healthier lives, then we can defeat obesity.

Let’s start with being role models during this joyous season, demonstrating healthy food choices and eating habits. Then, let’s look beyond the holiday season and take the fight to ground zero: our schools. It’s where our children spend most of their time and, of the 55 million school-aged children enrolled in schools across the United States, many rely on schools as a primary source of nutrition.

In the past, the very meals our children are depending on for daily sustenance were packed with sugary drinks and unhealthy foods. Add to this the fact that PE (physical education) was eliminated at many of our schools, and what we have is a generation of children destined to lead sicker and shorter lives than their parents.

We cannot allow this. And the new legislative session is the perfect time to prioritize our children’s health and futures.

Let’s attack the obesity problem with multi-faceted policies that:

» Limit and reduce sodas and sugary drinks in our schools.

» Mandate nutrition and health courses for students.

» Add PE and recess back in our schools.

» Extend public recreational center hours to allow our kids safe and secure places to play.

» Establish a public education campaign engaging families and communities around a unified conversation on obesity, its related diseases, and ways to help alleviate it.

The passage of the federal Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) laid the foundation. First implemented in schools during the 2012-2013 school year, HHFKA requires schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to update their nutrition standards and provide a review of meal standards and wellness programs to the public.

Since its implementation in schools, 86 percent of schools nationwide were certified as serving healthier meals that met the updated nutrition standards, receiving an additional six cents per meal in federal reimbursement.

These changes may seem hard, but they are possible. We can still enjoy the guilty pleasures we look forward to during this time of year, and we won’t abandon the culinary delights of our cultural legacy. But making a few changes, like modeling good habits in our homes and making sure school offerings are healthier, will build a wave of positive effects for generations to come.

So let’s take small steps now, at our holiday gatherings, and then prepare to take larger steps together in the New Year. Using policy aims and collaborative win-win strategies, let’s invest in the health of our children and protect our state’s most precious resource.

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