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Hawai'i Public Health Institute: Farm to School and Obesity Prevention

Wayne Yoshioka

The Hawai’i Public Health Institute is focusing on childhood obesity prevention in the upcoming legislative session. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports. 

It’s lunchtime for kindergarten and first graders at Royal Elementary School in Honolulu.  Statewide, one in four children entering the school system is classified as obese.   Hawai’i Public Health Institute executive director, Jessica Yamauchi, says obesity prevention will be a top legislative priority.

“We wanna work on what we’re calling a healthy by default bill and this is where we’re changing the default beverage in kids meals so that only healthy

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Jessica Yamauchi, executive director, Hawai'i Public Health Institute

beverages are offered with kids’ meals – water, milk – and really trying to help parents make the healthy choice the easy choice.  And then, we’re also advocating for a position in DOE for Farm to School.”

The Department of Education already serves fresh fruits and vegetables and chooses only brown rice and whole wheat flower from the Federal Commodity Program.  But, DOE Food Service Branch Administrator, Albert Scales, says the biggest challenge is a child’s home life.

“We try to serve as much fresh, healthy, local food as we can but if it’s different based on culture and things at home, then kids aren’t gonna wanna eat that.  Kids want Doritos, they want Twinkies, they want the Manapua man.  Those are the things they like.  So when we’re trying to introduce fresh foods – especially at an early age --  there is a challenge because we’re trying to introduce kids to something that they’re not used to getting at home.”

But, Department of Health School Coordinator, Jennifer Ryan, says obesity prevention, better nutrition

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
DOE Food Service Administrator, Albert Scales and DOH School Health Coordinator, Jennifer Ryan

and more physical activity, must be priorities, even if they’re only baby steps.

“They’ve been having brown rice for years.  Originally, there was push back, not from the students, but from their families.  Oh, my children will never eat brown rice.  But the kids they enjoy it and then they can ask their parents when they get back home, ‘Can we have some brown rice, too?  Can we have some fruits and vegetable?’  Because that’s what they want.”

Ryan says 85 percent of schools statewide have gardens, ranging from small plots to school-size parcels.  Public Health Institute’s Yamauchi says funding one full-time position would be a good start.

“The Farm to School Program right now has a position within Department of Agriculture but there needs to be a position in the Department of Education that they would work together.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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