Obesity in Hawaii: Epidemic Proportions
“As a nation, we need to respond as vigorously to this (obesity) epidemic as we do to an infectious disease epidemic…National efforts are needed to encourage physical activity and better nutrition and to conduct research to identify effective educational, behavioral, and environmental approaches to control and prevent obesity."
Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, Director
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The oldest depiction of female divinity on earth is the Goddess of Willendorf, a heavy-breasted, large-bellied clay mother figure more than 30,000 years old. Like other ancient goddess figures, her largeness symbolizes the fertility and juiciness desired for both procreation and bountiful harvests. In ancient cultures, the energetic spirit, if not the physical form of the fertility goddesses was something to aspire to. In those cultures, which included some in the Pacific Islands, a person's spiritual power was measured by the size of their girth.
Obesity is characterized by an excessively high amount of body fat or adipose tissue. This condition is increasingly common in the McDonald's/Kentucky Fried world, but the ramifications of the condition vary from individual to individual. In April 2002, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported the results of a 5-year study that revealed that more than 23 percent of children in the Hawaiian Islands are overweight -- about twice what it is on the mainland. This is a dangerous omen, in light of the significant health conditions brought on or exacerbated by obesity. These conditions include stroke, heart disease, cancer, gallstones and diabetes. And one just needs to look around to see that obesity is not limited to children in Hawaii. Although the types and amounts of food a person eats are most responsible for excess pounds, other factors contribute to and complicate the problem.
The Food Connection
The most obvious link to obesity is food. Many families living in Hawaii eat voluminous, calorie-laden meals rich in starch (like pasta and poi) and saturated fats (like pork, beef and fried foods). The fast-food industry is booming here, and fat and starch make up a significant portion of its offerings.
A May 2002, conference at the University of Hawaii's East-West Center focused specifically on Hawaii's childhood obesity problems. At the conference, Kelly Brownell, professor of psychology, epidemiology and public health and director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, described the nation's "toxic food environment" by saying, "It is absolutely astounding what we're allowing to happen to our children."
Brownell said the food industry "has run amok." Poor nutritional foods are inexpensive and available everywhere, including "places where you never thought you could eat, such as gas stations," he said. They are also offered in "supersize" portions -- like what McDonald's calls "Super Value Meals." Brownell added, "Our children are being taught that more is better."