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Governor enlists ASDOE to help fight against chronic lifestyle diseases

Chronic lifestyle diseases, resulting in the high cost of health care in American Samoa, were raised by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga during last week’s cabinet meeting and he asked the local Department of Education if this issue has been taken into consideration as part of the ASDOE curriculum.


ASDOE director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau and her staff had given a presentation to the cabinet meeting on the latest development in the department dealing with teachers and student performance as the new school year is set to begin next month.


Lolo, however, directed the cabinet's attention to one of the key issues, he told directors that was discussed during last month’s Western Governors’ Association Annual Meeting in Utah — that of the relationship between health care and education.


“[With] most of the chronic diseases that we’re facing today, and according to the discussion panel, the only solution to those chronic diseases, is through education," stated the Governor. "So what can Education do to solve the problem that the Health [Department] and LBJ [hospital] are facing in terms of all these chronic diseases?” he asked.


“There should be something in your curriculum," he told the ASDOE officials "that will promote those activities that will assist us in solving the chronic disease problems... we’re facing,” such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Lolo wondered whether “our children” are well prepared to deal with these issues.


“It seems like there’s no part of that in your curriculum,” the governor said and stated that something must to be done through education to help children, which will also assist the Health Department and LBJ in cutting down the cost of health care.


Lolo shared with directors that the panel discussion of professionals during the WGA concluded that the number one solution to the problem of chronic diseases is through education.


“And I am hoping that there is something in that curriculum that will reflect some sort of solution, into those real issues that we are facing in life. We should educate our children to understand the impact of their diet, of obesity, and the limited resources that we have,” he stated.


The governor went on to say that the cost of health care today is “sky-high” and there is no control to keep the cost down. “So I’m asking the director — what are your plans in the effort to [address] chronic diseases?” he said to Vaitinasa.


The ASDOE director responded by explaining that Physical Education (PE) and health are a priority for the department and that the PE period has been expanded from 30-minutes to one-hour. “It’s all about diet, and getting out there and exercising,” she said, adding that the one-hour for PE is every day for both elementary and secondary schools.


Vaitinasa also explained one of the issues she found in working with the ASDOE staff is that small mom & pop stores are operating right next to the schools. “And it’s a temptation” as the children come to school, the store is open at 6a.m. “selling all the junk food, while the cafeteria is prepared to provide basic healthy lunches and breakfasts,” she said.


“The children eat those snacks, because the stores are right next to the [school gate] and during recess they go to the stores. “So I’ve put out instructions that those gates are to be locked during instructional time and students are not to leave campus without parental permission. So there’s a lot of temptation fighting against our efforts.”


Vaitinasa acknowledged that businesses have the right to put their stores wherever they want to, “but those stores are so close to the school — right next to the gate, so the children eat the junk food before, during and after school.”


“So we’re working to keep the children on target with a healthy habit by increasing the PE period for both elementary and high school,” she added.


Lolo encouraged ASDOE to do all possible to ensure that students are healthy in an effort to combat chronic lifestyle diseases in the territory.


(Samoa News would also like to point out that some schools have had stores on campus operated by school organizations/ groups or by the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) as a means to raise funds for various school activities. These stores usually sell sodas and snacks, as well as bottled water — basically catering to what their student-customers want to buy.)