Put the focus on health

In our discussion last week with Hawaii Medical Services Association President Michael Gold, the subject of switching from treating illnesses to promoting healthy lifestyles came up.

HMSA is beginning an experiment this year on Kauai to promote what it calls “Blue Zones.” It is an attempt to “tweak” people’s lifestyles to help them make healthy choices.

The idea of “Blue Zones” grew out of studies of geographical areas around the world where populations are known for their longevity. Gold explained that some of these folks who live a long time don’t have particularly healthy diets and most are not exercise freaks.

What they do have in common, though, are natural life extenders. For example, most of the areas have populations that walk to and from their workplaces and social gatherings. Most do not have ready access to soda pop or candy machines. They drink water instead of colas.

The “Blue Zone” experiment will ask for small adjustments (tweaks) in people’s lives. For example:

* Schools – They may be asked to tell students they can’t drink soda or eat between classes. Gold estimates this may save a student from 500 unnecessary calories per day.

* Supermarkets – They may be asked to establish one “Blue Zone” checkout line where no candy is displayed. If children don’t see the candy next to the cash register, they won’t nag mom and dad to buy it for them.

* Parents – They may be tasked with forming “walking school buses.” Particularly where roads are not too busy, a walking school bus would have parents walking to school with their children rather than putting them on a bus. Both parents and students get exercise from the walk.

All these small “tweaks” will add up to a big difference in physical condition. If it is successful on Kauai, HMSA wants to bring it to the whole state.

Currently, a small city in Minnesota – Albert Lee – is experimenting with “Blue Zones,” as are three cities in California. The entire state of Iowa is also testing them.

It is an interesting concept and we applaud HMSA for focusing on ways to keep people healthy instead of simply treating sick folks.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.