CHL staff and students in American Samoa play with a parachute to increase cardiovascular activity.
The CHL program has a long name, impressive funding, and an important mission. Two and a half years ago the Children’s Healthy Living Program for Remote Underserved Minority Populations in the Pacific Region, headed by Rachel Novotny (HNFAS), was awarded a competitive grant of
$25 million over 5 years, and it’s working to effect much-needed change. The project partners with local communities in Hawai‘i, Alaska, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands to promote sustainable environments supporting healthy diets and active play for young children.
CHL integrates elements from traditional and modern global cultures that enhance health.
Limited data suggest that Pacific jurisdictions are some of the most obese countries in the world, and the problem is growing amongst the children as well as the adults in these regions. The methods by which the team encourages children to become more healthy range from promoting local foods, including produce from students’ own school gardens, to encouraging them in active play. Traditional foods, sports, and activities are supported, for often it’s their societies’ increasing reliance on modern Western conveniences and entertainments that has contributed to children’s obesity. In Alaska, for instance, easily available and unhealthy hydrogenated fat often takes the place of traditional fat sources, and, in all these regions, “screen time” in front of the television or computer can trump more energetic pastimes. CHL is not a program designed specifically to bring back the old ways, though; rather, it seeks to integrate elements from traditional and modern global cultures that enhance health.
The founders of the project have lofty goals in mind, and one of the most important is for the people they’re helping to then be able to help others in their communities. There’s even a provision for undergrad and graduate scholarships that will allow students to earn degrees and then return to their homes to help prevent childhood obesity there. Joaquim Pangelinan Castro of Chuuk is one of the 22 excited and motivated students participating in the program now. “I hope to be that person who will be there to serve, educate, and motivate my community with the knowledge I attain from the CHL training program,” he says, neatly encapsulating the program’s goals—and the reasons it’s succeeding.