College of Tropical Agriculture takes lead in $24.8M federal grant

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Dr. Rachel Novotny, (808) 956-3848
Principal investigator, CTAHR
Posted: Apr 20, 2011

UH Manoa's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) has been awarded a $24.8 million grant to develop food, nutrition and physical activity intervention, training, monitoring and evaluation systems, together with local communities, in order, to guide sustainable children’s obesity prevention program and policy development in the Pacific region.
The five-year competitive grant, the only one of its kind nationwide, was awarded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The official announcement was made on Wednesday afternoon, April 20, at the Lanakila Park Head Start Center in Liliha.

Hawaii U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye and University officials were present at the announcement.  Said Senator Inouye, “Childhood obesity is an expensive epidemic in America and combating it requires diligence and proper education.  If we teach our kids to eat healthy and stay active, we greatly reduce the likelihood that they will suffer from diseases associated with obesity, like congestive heart failure, diabetes, and high blood pressure.”
The $24.8 million grant funds the Children’s Healthy Living Program for Remote Underserved Minority Populations in the Pacific (CHIL).  Its goal is to build social/cultural, political/economic, and physical/built environments that promote active play and intake of healthy food to prevent childhood obesity in the Pacific region.
CHIL is a partnership among remote Pacific States and other jurisdictions of the U.S., and includes Hawai‘i, Alaska, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
CTAHR Dean Sylvia Yuen credits an established foundation of respect among these U.S.-affiliated Pacific jurisdictions as invaluable in launching such an effort. “Most of these jurisdictions previously formed the Healthy Living in the Pacific Islands Initiative, and had worked on many other common initiatives as members of the Pacific Land Grant Alliance that sprouted from CTAHR’s Agricultural Development in the American Pacific project,” said Dean Yuen.
CHIL is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Rachel Novotny, a professor in CTAHR’s Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences on the UH Mānoa campus.  She specializes in community and international nutrition, with a focus on children.
Said Dr. Novotny, “Native communities in the Pacific Region are seriously underrepresented in obesity research, despite a high prevalence of obesity and related behavioral and environmental risk factors. According to the few available data for the region, prevalence of overweight and obesity has been estimated at 60-90% of the adult population and 15-45% of 2-to 8-year-olds, higher than levels seen in the contiguous U.S.”
Earlier this month, at the 50th meeting of Pacific Island Health Officers Association (PIHOA), there were feelings of concern and urgency that the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands are in a declared State of Emergency due to the onslaught of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease, which are linked to obesity, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, poor diet, and physical inactivity. Said Dr. Stevenson Kuartei, PIHOA president and Minister of Health of the Republic of Palau, “It’s bad now, but this is just the beginning. Our children are more obese and less active than in any other generation. Since this is an emergency, let’s treat it like one.”
Other institutions and lead investigators include:
• University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Dr. Bret Luick.
• American Samoa Community College, Dr. Donald Vargo.
• Northern Marianas College, Dr. Jang Kim.
• University of Guam, Dr. Rachael Leon Guerrero.
• College of Micronesia-Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands (leader not yet determined).