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ASCC CNR seeks community input on promoting healthy lifestyle

Mrs. Lagi Seakerise of Alofau, a parent of an ECE student, signing in at the CHL Community Meeting in Fagaitua with the help of ASCC CNR Research Assistant Marie Chan Kau. [Photo: T. Fa’alogo/CNR]

During Christmas week Community and Natural Resources (ASCC CNR) staff held the first two of four community meetings to discuss ways to promote healthy living habits. The meetings took place on Tuesday at the Fagaitua Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS) hall and at the CCCAS hall in Tula on Thursday.

The purpose was to give parents, teachers, and community leaders a chance to express their input on encouraging families to eat more fruits and vegetables, drink more water and less sugar-sweetened beverages, exercise more, and get enough sleep. Participants came from villages stretching from Laulii to Onenoa with clergy representatives from the Catholic, CCCAS, Latter Day Saints, and Methodist faiths.

These meetings are an important part of a US Department of Agriculture grant called the Children’s Healthy Living (CHL) program, which aims to combat childhood obesity. Knowing that “it takes a village to raise a child,” CHL wants to engage the whole community in helping prevent healthy weight children from becoming obese adults. Serious, debilitating ailments such as heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, certain cancers, and high blood pressure are linked to obesity. These non-communicable diseases, or NCDs, shorten lives and place heavy physical, emotional, and financial burdens on families and on the health care system. To prevent these diseases, we must first prevent obesity.

Most children are at a healthy weight, but as they age many gain excessive weight quickly owing to diets of too much soda, candy, and chips and too little pak choi, breadfruit, and papaya. And instead of getting at least an hour of vigorous outdoor play each day, they spend too much time watching television and videos and playing Nintendo. And because lack of sleep has been shown to lead to overweight and poor grades in school, children need at least nine hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly to develop well.

To tackle this problem, ASCC CNR is working with researchers and Cooperative Extension Agents in Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. Under the leadership of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, CHL will test the ideas gathered from such community meetings, both here and at these other jurisdictions, to devise possible interventions to prevent children, aged 2 to 5 years, from gaining excessive weight during the two-year study.

In addition, CHL is sponsoring two candidates from each jurisdiction with full scholarships to earn degrees in a health field to continue the effort once the grant ends in 2016. Many other agencies and departments in American Samoa, public and private, are doing all that they can to educate the public on healthy living. CHL hopes that its contribution will provide the extra effort needed to make the Territory a leading success in the global fight against obesity and its attendant NCDs.

The ASCC CNR CHL team comprises Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Aga (Dean/Director), Aufa’i Apulu Ropeti Areta (Associate Director), Don Vargo (Site Principal Investigator), Siaunofo Logologo (Co-Site PI), Sharon Fanolua Sunia (Research Assistant), Rebecca Fiame (Cooperative Extension Agent, Nutrition), and Agnes Vargo (Intervention Specialist), with the assistance of Helen Lago, Marie Chan Kau, and the Expanded Family and Nutrition Education Program staff. The team is aided by a 15-member Local Advisory Committee composed of knowledgeable and influential members of the health, medical, education, and business communities.

For more information about the CHL program, visit http://chl-pacific.org or contact Don Vargo (699-1394 x 234)  email: donvargo@rocketmail.co) at ASCC CNR.

Satele Lili’o Ali’ita’i, Tiapula Imo Mamea, and the Rev. Dr. Leanaotaua S. Seva'aetasi of Tula participating in a discussion on childhood obesity prevention. [Photo: T. Fa’alogo/CNR]


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