Hawai’i site manager assists ASCC/CHR in Children’s Healthy Living Program
For the past several years, the Community & Natural Resources (CNR) Division of the American Samoa Community College has participated in the Children’s Healthy Living (CHL) Program for Remote Underserved Minority Populations in the Pacific Region.
Headquartered at the UH Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture, CHL is funded by a grant from the US Department of Agriculture and includes Hawaii, American Samoa and the other US trust territories in partnership to stem the tide of childhood obesity through research, education, and extension activities. The CHL mission statement defines their purpose as building “a social, political, economic and physical environment in the Pacific Region that supports active play, physical activity, and eating healthy food in order to promote health.”
Among the CNR staff directly involved in the CHL Program, Aufa'i Apulu Ropeti Areta serves as Lead Site Co-Investigator with Ursula Teo Martin as Site Co-Investigator. About a dozen more CNR staff also contribute to CHL in various capacities.
As reported in the local media, for the past two years CNR personnel have been gathering data on the weight and overall health of children aged two to eight in selected villages. To assist them on taking their CHL activities to the next stage, Jean Butel, CHL Hawaii Site Manager and Intervention Coordinator, recently spent a week in the territory to give a series of trainings and participate in CNR planning meetings to map out the next phases of the project.
Butel emphasized that research into the causes of childhood obesity in American Samoa and other areas of the Pacific is still in its early stages. “General research has shown that certain behaviors, such as the consumption of sugary drinks, contribute to childhood obesity in any culture,” she explained, “but all the factors that contribute to childhood obesity in American Samoa have not yet been determined. With our program, we hope to get a clearer picture of these factors in order to offer possible solutions to the trend of unhealthy weight in young children.”
Butel’s workshop sessions, which included topics such as the crucial importance of having role models for CHL objectives, were attended not only by CNR staff but also representatives from other organizations working to stem childhood obesity locally.
Community partners in CHL include the Department of Education, LBJ Hospital, the Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture, and others. Cooperation among community organizations, Butel stressed, is a crucial factor in formulating local solutions. “By uniting together, I believe the tide of childhood obesity can be turned,” she said. “I was happy to see many examples of work being done by various organizations, villages, and churches to support healthy weight and wellbeing in young children. Many groups finding solutions and sharing them would go a long way towards helping the young children of American Samoa maintain a healthy weight.”
Standard CHL methodology involves a two-year “measurement” phase, followed by a two-year “intervention” period. During the measurement phase, data is taken on children in both an “intervention community” and a “comparison community”. During the intervention period, strategies are tried on the children in the intervention community, but not upon the children in the comparison community. At the end of the intervention period, results among the children in the intervention group are measured against their counterparts in the comparison group.
“The strategies we try among the intervention group are simple CHL objectives such as increasing sleep, fruit and vegetable intake, water consumption and physical activity, while decreasing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and screen time in front of television and computers,” explained Don Vargo, CHL Research Coordinator.
Having spent a week giving talks and visiting intervention sites, Butel departed the territory, in her own words, “grateful that I had the opportunity to visit American Samoa and experience the rich culture.” She also commended the work being done at CNR and by other community organizations.
“CNR are working diligently to promote a healthy lifestyle and collaborating with like-minded partners to alter the course of childhood obesity in American Samoa,” she said. “To stem the tide of childhood obesity there needs to be the belief and hope that people can make a difference, and an environment that supports the health and wellbeing of young children. I believe that this is beginning to happen, and by everyone working together we will continue to see healthy, happy American Samoan children.”
For more information on the Children’s Healthy Living Program, visit http://www.chl-pacific.org/.
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