Editor’s note: This Community Voice was one of numerous entries in our recently concluded Emerging Writers Contest.

Last year, America’s Health Rankings placed the Aloha State second for healthiest state. We can praise our active lifestyle, thanks to the accessibility of hiking trails on the islands and our proximity to the ocean. Gym membership is an option if one prefers to exercise indoors. Meanwhile, our kids are engage in physical education and after-school sports.

All seems rosy, but on a closer look at data, it is quite puzzling that our state is placed near the top.

According to the State of Obesity, 23.8 percent of the adult population in Hawaii is obese. Pointing fingers at drivers sitting in cars battling traffic that stretches miles around on a daily basis will not solve the problem. Rumors circulated that Mayor Kirk Caldwell once said that the H-1 is a giant parking lot.

Freeway traffic honolulu .
Want to be healthier, Hawaii? Try getting out of the car more often. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Health care costs are dramatically on the rise while the shortage of physicians remains a pressing issue as the aging population grows. When workers are sick, they are unable to work and businesses suffer. All is not well, and from a public health perspective prevention is key and further proof is needed to show that we deserve our top ranking.

Nobody likes to be inconvenienced, and with people working two or three jobs these days to get by, self-care becomes a low priority. If the government truly cares about its residents, then actions must be taken now to provide for the type of environment that influences healthy behaviors.

Most of us are aware that healthy food consumption and physical exercise are two factors that matter when it comes to maintaining good health. “Busy” is a frequent excuse to avoid both, so what can be done to help encourage folks without creating an extra burden?

Purchasing Vs. Preparing Foods

In an ideal world, everyone will learn about farm-to-table, such as involvement at community gardens in order to appreciate where the good food comes from and avoid the processed junk foods.

Because this proposal is unrealistic, what could benefit people immensely is the elimination of taxes associated with the purchase of fresh vegetables and fruits at all outdoor vendors and supermarkets. Not only will there be a boost in healthy foods consumption, stores are more likely to get rid of perishable goods.

Although the state loses a bit of revenue, eliminating taxes on specific items is a win-win solution for both consumers and distributors. Making up for this lost revenue can be achieved by imposing higher taxes on unhealthy items like sugary drinks.

If tax relief leads to an increase in purchases of vegetables and fruits, a followup action is to provide free family cooking classes held during various times. Not everyone knows how to create delicious dishes from healthy foods, so it is important to target those who may need guidance on cooking methods.

Meanwhile, our farms can assist by supplying surplus ingredients. In the long run, parents learn to eat better while their children benefit from nutritious meals.

To reduce waste, participants are responsible for bringing their own reusable plates and utensils to these classes. The two actions of waiving taxes for certain foods and educating the public are worth considering for their positive impacts on healthy foods consumption.

Incentivizing Transportation

Food consumption is a necessary habit, but physical exercise is not a criteria for survival and rarely makes it on our to-do lists. In modern society, who has the time when going to work, caring for the youth and elderly population, running household errands, dealing with hygiene, and ensuring adequate rest are among top adult priorities?

If we plan to address our obesity problem, then let’s associate physical exercise with the words “free” and “fun.” Similar to providing free cooking classes, the government can offer free fitness classes to be held at various public parks with a tiny portion of the state budget going toward the salary of these instructors.

A few years ago, I had the lucky opportunity of spending an entire summer in Boston and participated in the Boston Parks Summer Fitness Series. People of all ages learned Zumba, yoga, tai chi, etc., and made new friends.

It is possible here with our yearlong summer weather that there will be participants, because a break from their hectic lives is appreciated. The fitness series was extremely popular and I anticipate an even larger crowds throughout the islands once the word gets out.

We observe others who sit in their car, sit at their computer screen at work, and sit in front of the TV day after day thinking their behavior is normal. They are so used to their routine that “change” is a foreign word. Intentionally heading out for the purpose of exercise might not be a regular activity, but most of us do commute from point A to point B.

How about incorporating exercise into our commute? We love our cars, but biking can become the ideal way to travel short distance trips. While maintaining our roads is important, why not put in additional protected bike lanes and install racks in the meantime?

Having the infrastructure in place will increase bike ridership and promote safety measures. Recognizing those who take the initiative for their health means rewarding employees who walk or bike to work. These types of rewards could include a monthly celebration with prize drawings, the opportunity to leave work early without losing pay, or even a pass with discounts at local stores.

For folks who switch over to the Biki for commuting, they should also be entitled to the same rewards. In fact, employers should offer subsidized Biki membership to their employees. while the elderly (age 65 and up), low income (based on federal poverty level), and chronic disease patients (by medical referral) should receive free membership. The two actions of offering free fitness classes and creating a walk-bike friendly environment will promote physical exercise.

Say no to obesity and sickness and yes to pursuing a healthy lifestyle with assistance from the government and employers.

None of these suggestions are unique, as implementation exists elsewhere. With Mayor Caldwell signing the Age-Friendly Honolulu bill into law Oct. 11, now is the time to put into action initiatives that will ensure everyone can enjoy longer and better lives.

The little we spend today toward boosting healthy food consumption and physical exercise for people of all ages will pay off many times in the future when we do not end up burdening the health care system as well as our family members. Say no to obesity and sickness and yes to pursuing a healthy lifestyle with assistance from the government and employers.

The annual health rankings may make us proud, but there is much work left to do. Other states and communities are actively improving the health of their residents, so Hawaii has a lot to learn and implement in the years to come. Change will only happen through community efforts via partnerships and funding set aside by decision-makers.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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