The state wants to know what you’re eating

The Hawaii Department of Health wants to know what you’re eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And they want to know about all those snacks you eat between meals.

And they want to know where you get your food and how you prepare it.

And why does the state want to know all this via a statewide survey it recently mailed out?

Here’s why: It is aiming to learn more about food habits of Hawaii residents and visitors, and find out if there are any behaviors associated with possible risks for foodborne illnesses, including angiostrongyliasis, commonly known as rat lungworm disease.

The official survey was mailed Nov. 1 at random to households across the state. Those who receive the paper-based survey will also be offered the option to submit responses online.

The survey will include questions about what residents like to eat, where foods are purchased or grown, where water resources come from, and how foods are prepared. Data gathered will be used to inform best practices for food safety, guide public health intervention and prevention strategies, and enhance understanding of the risk for foodborne disease among Hawaii residents and visitors.

The department is aiming to collect a total of 3,772 survey responses to gather a complete picture representative of households in the state.

“The more data we have to understand the average food consumption habits of people in Hawaii, the better equipped our team will be to respond quickly to identify implicated foods and respond faster to mitigate further spread of disease,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park. “Department of Health disease investigators work diligently to determine how people may have gotten sick, but one of the most difficult parts of an investigation is determining what individuals may have been exposed to that caused the infection.”

We did not receive this survey at our Kapaa residence, but it’s safe to say the state would probably be dismayed by my diet. Like most folks, I start off well with a 40-minute workout routine, coffee and water, followed by my morning run and then a protein shake/smoothie.

For lunch, an apple, cheese stick, maybe rice. Lots of water.

By late afternoon, early evening, the floodgates, however, break. And I consume pretty much whatever is in sight, whether it be candy, pizza, or yogurt. Literally, anything goes down. And we’re not even at dinner yet.

My wife is annoyed I can consume so much without gaining weight. She likes to say I have the metabolism of a water shrew, which have very high metabolic rates. I prefer to attribute it to exercising every morning and running 40 miles a week and as of late, a beer ban.

Since I’m upping my mileage to train for the Honolulu Marathon, I figure I need to eat a bit more, anyway. So I do.

Anyway, back to the survey.

Data gathered will be used specifically to analyze potential risk behaviors related to rat lungworm disease, such as specific food-item consumption, exposure to rats, slugs and snails in the area surrounding a survey respondent’s home, food preparation habits, water sources, and eating habits outside the home.

Dr. Park added, “We know that most people get sick with angiostrongyliasis from eating infected slugs and snails, but we often have a hard time pinpointing exactly how they came to consume the infected mollusks. This survey will allow us to determine if certain behaviors or conditions may result in greater susceptibility than others to rat lungworm disease.”


Bill Buley is editor-in-chief of The Garden Island newspaper. He can be reached at 245-0457 or


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