By Dennis J. Freeman
Westwood, CA-There was plenty of screaming going on Saturday as UCLA’s intramural field was jammed with young people hooting for autographs of current NFL players and scrambling to participate in the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Health and Fitness Day. But the big deal about the event was energizing a population to get moving and for them to seek healthy eating alternatives.
More than 500 people, mostly youths from as far Utah, attended the festive event that featured NFL stars Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers), Hines Ward (Pittsburgh Steelers), Marcus McNeill (San Diego Chargers) and health maven Jillian Michaels speaking on the importance of healthy living to Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders under a commissioned White House initiative activity.
Most of which the four spoke on was getting kids to put down their latest technology gadgets and to get outside and exercise.
“I think the parents and the kids have to get together and make it a team thing,” said Ward, the Steelers all-time receiving leader. “The parents have to take an initiative to go outside and walk around with their kids, get them out the house and encourage them to exercise and put down their iPad and all that stuff, and encourage their kids to get out and work harder.”
The scope of the event was designed to draw attention to the increasing rate of childhood obesity among Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth and promote physical activity as a key element to prevention.
As talk has surfaced to a national level about the high obesity rate in this country, Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders have been somewhat overlooked in the conversation.
That’s because that ethnic group make up less than1% of the total population in this country, according to a 2009 report. California has the highest number of Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders 284,000 people living in the state. Despite the low number in population, Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders are fluxed with a high statistical rate of obesity that runs within their communities.
According to a study conducted by the Office of Minority Health in 2009, Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders are three times to be obese than the overall Asian American population. They are 60% to be more overweight and obese than non-Hispanic whites.
The World Health Organization put the obesity rate of the Federated States of Micronesia over 90%. The Republic of Palau is nearly as bad with a rate hovering right around 80% of its people in the obese category.
Polamalu, who is Samoan, spoke on connecting spiritual health with physical wellness to the cheering audience.
“I realize the importance of bodily health,” Polamalu said. “But not to diminish the importance of exercise and being active and working out, what I want to talk about is spiritual health, something I think is more important. Asians and Pacific Islanders…our cultures are deeply rooted in virtues of joy, of humility, of love, of compassion.
“I think as ambassadors of our countries, whether you’re from Tonga, from Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, I think as ambassadors of our cultures, it’s important to be examples of these virtues to everybody else. I think that is our biggest gift as islanders.”
For McNeill, health and fitness starts with the family. He knows about that first hand as members of his family has become afflicted with diabetes. He wants kids to know what they are putting in their bodies and their lack of exercise can affect them as they get older.
“We just want to be prepared to have kids eating right,” McNeill said. “They can have a more productive life. Kids are actually coming up with things like diabetes and high blood pressure. These are things we’re used to seeing in adults. Whenever you start seeing that at a young level, you know it’s really a problem. We’ve got to attack it at a child’s level.”