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Envision the Future: Translating Research into Healthy Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Communities

I attended the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Health Disparity and Health Equity Conference in Los Angeles in September. It was a fascinating conference. I didn’t understand why this conference was being sponsored by the University of Michigan and being held in Los Angeles! I soon learned!

Sela Panapasa is a dynamic and passionate Pacific Islander research scientist from Michigan who conducted the Pacific Islander Health Study Report in 2012. The preliminary findings were shared with conference attendees. Samoans and Tongans in two communities in San Mateo and Los Angeles counties of California were surveyed. The purpose of the study was to facilitate data collection among numerically small and hard to reach Pacific Islander (PI) populations, and to collect comparable sets of baseline information to determine PI health disparities. The study looked at health status; health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity; health behavior; and health access and utilization. An important finding is the heterogeneity that exists between Pacific Islanders! One size will not fit all!

What I learned was that in 1997 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) implemented a new racial category for Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders to separate them from the larger category of Asian Americans. OMB mandated that all federal agencies collect and report data using these revised categories, which was implemented in the last US Census.

There were speakers from the Office of Minority Health, Census Bureau, and the Office of Behavioral Health Equity. Howard Koh, the Assistant Secretary of Health, spoke, as well as regional government officials. Sione Fa, from NBC’s The Biggest Loser, spoke as a Tongan with weight issues.

Hokulea Voyaging Canoe

Hokulea, The Voyaging Canoe

I found out that turkey tails are a big health issue because they are mostly fat, but they are a PI treat! I also learned the phrase, “The coconut hasn’t fallen yet.” That meant we have more time before lunch. Several people mentioned NLM’s Native Voices as there is a section in the exhibition about the Native Hawaiian Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe. One of our speakers gave us a slide show on the building of the model.

Overall, the conference was fascinating! There were folks from various parts of the Pacific Basin and New Zealand. Every once in a while there would be an occasion for a group to break out in song!

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