Poor housing and DUI deaths lower Maui’s health score

Blue Zones Project volunteer Kealoha Marrs demonstrates the technique of papa ku‘i ‘ai to Maui High School students Lucas King, 16, and Komasi Agader, 15, during Thursday’s Nani Ke Ola “Beautiful Life” Wellness Fair at University of Hawaii Maui College. The event sponsored by UH-MC Student Government drew a half-dozen agencies and groups promoting healthy living options as well as warning of the dangers of things like vaping and smoking tobacco. A group from Maui High participated with a cleanup of cigarette butts around the Kahului campus. The ninth annual County Health Rankings pointed to severe housing problems and a high rate of alcohol-impaired driving deaths as areas for improvement in the health of Maui County’s community. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Severe housing problems and a high rate of alcohol-impaired driving deaths are some of the areas that Maui County’s community should explore to improve residents’ health, according to a national report released Wednesday.

Maui County is the third healthiest of four counties in Hawaii, according to the ninth annual County Health Rankings released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. First in the state is Kauai, followed by Honolulu. Last was Hawaii County.

Although Maui County is second to the bottom of the short list, it has some high points. One is that only 20 percent of adults age 20 or older report no leisure-time physical activity.

Examples of physical activities include running, calisthenics, golf, gardening or walking for exercise, the study said. At 80 percent, Maui County mirrors top-performing counties in the nation.

Another positive is that only 12 percent of children in Maui County live in poverty, 8 percentage points lower than the U.S. rate of 20 percent. The state rate is 11 percent. An announcement of the study reported that, among racial and ethnic groups in Hawaii, rates of children in poverty range from 7 percent to 16 percent, with Asian/Pacific Islander children facing the worst and white children faring the best.

Kalai Pridgen, 11, leads dancers from Hot Lava and students from Maui High in a Zumba dance during Thursday’s wellness fair.

“Our children will become more resilient, and grow into stronger, healthier adults with greater economic opportunities if we build communities with quality education, emotional and social support, access to quality health care, and safe, affordable and stable housing,” said Richard Besser, the president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which aims to improve health and health care. “Every community should use their County Health Rankings data, work together, and find solutions so that all babies, kids and adults — regardless of their race or ethnicity — have the same opportunities to be healthy.”

The report showed that in Maui County 32 percent of households have a severe housing problem. The households have at least one out of four of the following housing issues: overcrowding, high housing costs, or a lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities.

Severe cost burden is defined as monthly housing costs, including utilities, that exceed 50 percent of monthly income, the study said. Severe overcrowding is defined as more than 1.5 people per room.

Overall, 28 percent of households in Hawaii reported a severe housing problem. In the U.S., the top-performing counties reported only 9 percent of households with severe housing problems.

The statistics do not shock Stan Franco, an affordable housing advocate on Maui with the group FACE Maui, or Faith Action for Community Equity.

“It’s not surprising at all,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve been talking about this for 30 years.”

The federal government notes that housing should not cost more than 30 percent of monthly income, he said. But, on Maui, “We are way over that.”

The average price of a home is $700,000, he said.

Franco said that if he didn’t already own his home, “I couldn’t afford my own house as it is right now.”

FACE Maui is working with the Maui County Council to develop an affordable housing plan to help find housing for people ranging from those with no income to those earning 120 percent of the median income, he said.

Franco said he agrees that not having proper housing creates “all kinds of social” and health problems.

For example, if a child does not have a place to study, that affects his or her education and future, he said. “What happens to that kid in the long period of time?”

He said not having a home affects a person’s personal, social and emotional well-being.

Franco noted that older people need a place to call home and residents tend to entertain at their homes as well, contributing to their social and emotional health.

As for alcohol-impaired driving deaths, 52 percent of driving deaths involve alcohol in Maui County. The study said that the statistics used were based on a five-year average.

In comparison, statistics for the state as a whole showed 35 percent of driving deaths involved alcohol. In the U.S., best-performing counties recorded 13 percent of driving deaths related to alcohol.

In another area needing work, the study pointed out that only 78 percent of the 9th-grade cohort graduated from high school in four years in Maui County. For the State of Hawaii, the percentage of graduates is 82 percent.

The best-performing counties in the U.S. are at 95 percent.

Overall, Raquel Luz Bournhonesque of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program said the rankings show that where one lives makes a difference in how well and how long one lives. There are many factors that influence health, including high school graduation, housing quality and affordability, and employment opportunities.

The information can be found at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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