Kauai a leader in health, fitness

Hawaii is healthy. So healthy, in fact, it was ranked as the nation’s healthiest state for the fifth straight year, according to key findings in United Health Foundation’s 27th America’s Health Rankings Annual Report.

Perhaps that should come as no surprise. When you live in a place where it’s pretty much sunny and warm year-round, it opens the door to ample outdoor opportunities and to take advantage of them, it helps to be in shape. Start with the basics of walking, biking, swimming and running. You’ve also got hiking, surfing, canoeing, surfing and paddleboarding. You’ve got classes like yoga, dance and water aerobics.

On Kauai, there are plenty of good health groups, like Au‘Rai Fitness, CrossFit, personal trainers like Jane Riley, and Kauai Athletic Club, as well as numerous locals who meet for workouts and training. Divas and Dudes is popular among those seeking camaraderie with their training runs and other activities.

Fortunately, we also have several key people who are well aware of the importance of good health and do all they can to encourage it. Bev Brody of Get Fit Kauai, with her endless energy and enthusiasm, comes to mind, as does Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr., who leads the Mayor-A-Thon in June and shows up at nearly every event on this island with a big smile and good words. There’s Tommy Noyes of Kauai Path, an advocate for cycling. We also have Jeff Sacchini, founder of The Kauai Marathon in September, which has done much to promote fitness and training in its eight years. We have the Kauai North Shore Community Foundation, which includes Ken Rosenthal on its board and a driving force behind the Ohana Fit in July.

Kauai is home to some of the world’s most scenic courses with the Haena to Hanalei eight-mile race in June, Roots ‘n Shoots 5k at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and Pedal to the Meadow in May that climbs the Waimea Canyon rim.

And Kauai has many options for healthy eating alternatives.

Developing healthy eating habits early is critical. That’s why we hope to see expansion of the Farm to School Initiative, which is underway in the Hawaii State Department of Education’s Kohala Complex on the island of Hawaii.

In early November, Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui, HIDOE, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, State Procurement Office and The Kohala Center signed a memorandum of understanding to allow for policy to be created to guide Farm to School activities in all HIDOE schools. It includes purchasing locally grown food and ingredients, menu modifications, kitchen staff training on scratch-cooking, food waste, and growing food for cafeteria use, among other key components.

OK. It’s clear this is an active island, which leads us back to that America’s Health Rankings report by the United Health Foundation.

Overall, the report found that the United States has made notable long-term improvements across key health indicators, including:

w A reduction in the prevalence of smoking among adults. Since 1990, smoking among adults has decreased by 41 percent — including a 17 percent decrease in the last four years.

w Preventable hospitalizations have declined by 35 percent over the past decade, and achieved a 13 percent decline in the past year alone.

w In the past five years, the rate of uninsured Americans declined by 35 percent ­— from 16.2 percent to 10.6 percent, which is the lowest point in the report’s 27-year history.

But health worries persist.

The report highlights serious challenges, such as:

w For the first time in the 27-year history of the America’s Health Rankings Annual Report, the cardiovascular death rate has increased in the past year (from 250.8 to 251.7 deaths per 100,000).

w The rate of drug deaths has increased by 9 percent over the past five years, and increased by 4 percent in just the past year.

w The premature death rate has increased for the second consecutive year.

And perhaps most troubling of all:

w Since the first America’s Health Rankings Annual Report was released in 1990, the prevalence of obesity among adults has increased by an astounding 157 percent. That means too many people are eating too much and exercising too little.

“We are at a crossroads between a healthier future as a nation and a future in which troubling public health measurements become increasingly common,” said Reed Tuckson, M.D., external senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation.

Kauai takes a backseat to none when it comes to promoting exercise, encouraging physical fitness and creating opportunities to use that fitness to enjoy one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

The national recognition of Get Fit Kauai’s worksite wellness program — it received the National Physical Activity Plan Congress Champion Award last year — means it is a national model and people are looking to it for leadership in a campaign against obesity, diabetes, stress and cardiovascular disease due to inactivity and poor diet.

Good health is priceless. You can’t buy it. You have to work for it. On Kauai, you’ll have plenty of company to help you get there.

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