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J. Keaweʻaimoku Kaholokula, chair of John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Department of Native Hawaiian Health, testifies at the hearing.

The University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine and its community partners presented the Assessment and Priorities for Health and Well-Being of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Peoples report (PDF) to four committees of the state Legislature on September 24.

The study is the result of two years of work, and the most comprehensive collection of data focusing on what is working and what challenges remain in the health status of Native Hawaiians, Filipinos, Samoans, Tongans, Guamanian/Chamorro, Micronesians (Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) and Fijians.

The challenges for this population are enormous—most of them have shorter life spans than other Hawaiʻi citizens. Thirty organizations across the state and in California identified the major health concerns, which includes diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

The positive news is that, over time, there has been improvement as a result of focused efforts. For example, Filipinos in Hawaiʻi now can be expected to live, on average, to nearly age 81—that’s slightly better than the overall Hawaiʻi life expectancy of 80.5 years. Native Hawaiians, however, typically die six years earlier than other populations. (That does show a steady if slow improvement from 1970, when the life expectancy of Native Hawaiians was 13 years less than that of other populations.)

What is working in these communities are health improvement programs run by people the community knows and trusts.

  • Programs that blend culture and science—a cardiac health improvement study that incorporated hula saw a 20-point drop in blood pressure among participants.
  • Improving educational opportunities—the UH Community Colleges Pathways program has almost doubled its enrollment of Native Hawaiians from 1992–2007.

“Collaborations are difficult but they work,” said Mele Look, director of community engagement for the Department of Native Hawaiian Health. “If we focus on what the community wants, what they will participate in, and what works, we can make progress.”

Read the John A. Burns School of Medicine story for more information.

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