Monday, September 21, 2009


Residents of Hawaii have a longer life expectancy than any other state in the United States, according to a study conducted by the Harvard University Initiative for Global Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. The average Hawaiian resident can expect to live 80 years and women live even longer averaging 83.2 years. Researchers on the project discovered that longevity is not influenced by personal income, inadequate health insurance, or violence but is somewhat influenced by chronic disease and injury.

The US National Center for Health Statistics shows that on average residents of Hawaii have a life span of 81.7 years, almost 4 years longer than residents on the US mainland have with their average life span of 78 years. The average life span of a person living in Hawaii is closer to that of a person living in Japan, which has the longest average life expectancy of any country in the world at 82.1 years.

One of the attractions to us of living in Hawaii is to be in a place where people are healthy and fit and live longer lives. But Hawaii, like the rest of the US, is having major increases in obesity among baby boomers so we wonder if the state will maintain its high longevity rates. The percentage of overweight adults in Hawaii increased from 29.7% in 1991 to 33.3% in 2005. Obesity rates increased during the same time period from 10.7% to 19.7%. Below is a chart showing how Hawaii County (the Big Island) compares with the state of Hawaii's overweight rate by age group. The rates of being overweight and obese in the baby boomer age range is dramatic compared with residents over 75 years of age.

Hawaii’s State Department of Health understands the importance of physical activity and healthy eating for reducing disease and early death. In 2008, Kolodziejski, Hirokawa, Benson, and Irwin prepared the Hawaii Physical Activity and Nutrition Surveillance Report 2008. Their report characterized the behaviors of adults in Hawaii by surveying how many adults met the national recommendations for physical exercise (moderate activity for 30 minutes on 5 or more days of the week or vigorous intensity activity for 20 or more minutes on 3 or more days of the week) and ate a healthy daily diet ( 5 or more fruits and vegetables a day). In the State of Hawaii, 50.8% of adults did the recommended physical exercise. Overall the percentage of Hawaii County residents that did the recommended exercise was a tiny bit higher than the state average, the highest percentage living in the Kona area. The report divided Hawaii County into four regions: North Hawaii in the northwest, Hilo area in the northeast, Puna and Ka’u in the southeast, and Kona in the southwest part of the island. Here is a percentage breakdown by the four regions in Hawaii County.

Differences in income were not found to be significant, but differences in race were. Japanese and Filipinos exercised the least and Native Hawaiians and Whites exercised the most. Older people exercised less than younger people.

In the State of Hawaii, 31.8% of adults ate the recommended diet. Overall the percentage of residents in Hawaii County that ate the recommended diet was a bit higher than the state average, the largest percentage living in Puna and Ka’u areas. Here is a breakdown for Hawaii County.

Differences in schooling and income were not found to be significant, but differences in age and race were. Japanese were significantly less likely than Whites to eat the recommended diet and a significantly higher percentage of adults (46.8%) in the 80+ group met the daily recommendations. The percentage of adults in the 70-79 age group (39.9%) that ate the recommended diet was significantly higher than the younger adults in the 20-59 age group. Though the Japanese were less likely to eat the recommended diet, Whites were significantly more likely to be obese than Japanese adults.

The study showed that disease-free adults reported higher rates of physical exercise and were significantly less likely to have diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. Adults that ate the recommended diet were less likely to have diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and were significantly less likely to report being overweight or obese. Hawaii residents older than 85 have already lived longer than the average life span for residents in the State of Hawaii and continue to eat more healthy than the rest of us.

Hawaii offers an abundance fresh produce and opportunities for outdoor activities. If we eat the recommended amounts of the fresh fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly we should be able to improve our health and have the opportunity to share in Hawaii’s renown long life span.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


For decades, the Mediterranean diet has been touted as a diet which improves cardio-vascular health and extends life. Olive oil has been determined to be the primary ingredient in the Mediterranean diet that results in the health benefits accorded to our Greek and Italian friends. We have been buying olive oil for years, careful to get the cold-press extra virgin variety.

Recently, I was reviewing the wonders of olive oil in my book about Healthy Fats and I noticed a previously overlooked researcher’s note at the bottom of the page: “All studies on the health improvements due to olive oil were based on “cold-pressed, virgin, unfiltered olive oil”. Apparently, the researcher was concerned that many of the health benefits may be from the suspended particles in the olive oil that are removed by most olive oil producers to extend the shelf life.

Olive oil used by locals in the Mediterranean areas is essentially the same as eating the raw fruit. Cold pressed olive oil is the only plant oil eaten raw and made by simply crushing and pressing the olive without heat or chemicals. Every other oil (canola, corn, safflower, peanut, and even regular olive oil) goes through a refining process using high heat and chemicals to extract the oil. If cold pressed olive oil is not filtered, it produces a cloudy and more pungent oil with a shorter shelf life. This fresh oil, called Olio Nuovo, is raw and complete with the solids from the crushing. It has to be refrigerated and has a limited shelf life, just like other fruits. The Olio Nuovo is available only once a year when the olives are harvested (just like our favorite French Beaujolais Nouveau) and it changes to regular olive oil over time as the solids settle.

It turns out that the label “Cold-Pressed Extra Virgin” is no guarantee that olive oil has been processed without chemicals, heat, or dilution with other oils. The United States has no labeling laws governing the production and labeling of olive oil.

So began our search for unfiltered, cold-pressed, virgin olive oil in Hilo, Hawaii. A visit to the newly opened Island Naturals health food store in Hilo Shopping Center led us to our first bottle of unfiltered olive oil: Olio Nuovo from Napa Valley, California. The taste is very different from the extra virgin olive oil that we have been buying. The cloud of green glop suspended in the oil makes it seem more like eating an olive than oil. Now we wonder if by using this unfiltered olive oil we will finally see the great health benefits promised by the Mediterranean diet.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Being spoiled by the incredible food available in Hilo, Hawaii we packed a cooler of Big Island grass fed beef and fresh Ahi tuna steaks for our visit to Waikiki to make sure we had some fantastic dinners without having to rely on pricey restaurants. We noticed that one of the hotels had an Ahi special, a steak for $24, not including side dishes or drinks. The stack of $3.50/lb Ahi steaks we lugged to Oahu translated to many delicious, low-cost meals.

We are regulars at the Kino’ole Saturday Farmers Market in Hilo. It is smaller than the huge Hilo Farmer’s market but most of the vendors grow the produce in their backyards or small farms. The tomatoes we buy there aren’t the perfectly round ones found in mainland grocery stores; they are oversized with odd shapes, non-GMO tomatoes. We have become very attached to these tomatoes along with the lettuce, broccoli, green onions, avocados, cabbage, carrots, and white pineapples we buy there on Saturdays.

While in Waikiki we shopped at a store on Kuhio Avenue, the closest grocery store for the local condo residents there. We expected the high prices, but were surprised at the pitiful state of the produce. The only tomatoes available were a long way from where they were grown in Mexico; they felt dead, lifeless and old. When we hold the fruit and vegetables at the farmers market in Hilo, we can feel their freshness, nutrition, and the life force in them.

We are mystified that people living in Waikiki do not have easy access to the Big Island’s quality produce. How is it that 196 nautical miles or a 45 minute air flight separates the people in Waikiki from the life force in a fresh tomato?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Last week we were in Oahu to attend the Hawaii Writers conference and found Waikiki in a strange state. There were lots of tourists, lots of closed restaurants, and lots of retail store fronts with paper covering the glass. In one major hotel on the beach 75% of the retail shops were closed and the few stores that remained open were having discount sales. At night the restaurants a few blocks from the ocean front hotels had huge lines with waits of over 45 minutes. We met visitors staying in ocean front resorts for $99 a night, 25% of the normal hotel rate. We were able to get a kama'aina rate of $200 a night for a 2 bedroom with a kitchen, living and dining room on Beachwalk Road.

The keynote address at the Writers Conference given by the bestselling author of “The Deep End of The Ocean” was memorable. She disclosed her personal difficulties of being injured from a fall and recently losing of all her savings earned from her book sales. She described herself as the most famous broke person she knew. It was moving to hear her talk of dealing with the grief of being suddenly poor after achieving wealth from her writing.

Many of the sessions at the Writers conference discussed the transition the book publishing industry is in today. In the past, publishers have relied on newspapers to channel their books to market. Editors got reviews of their new titles from the big newspapers and lobbied to get them on one or more of the best seller lists to drive sales. But newspapers are quickly disappearing and the traditional book reviewers, best seller lists, and the publicity routes to book buyers are disappearing with them.

In response, publishing editors are starting to require that their authors have a “platform”, a term used repeatedly at the conference without definitive definition. The common thread of the term “platform” was a mechanism to reach potential book buyers. A platform could be regular seminars given by the author that reaches student buyers or a lecture circuit to reach attendee buyers. But recently, it is more often a social media presence to reach potential buyers.

The internet is the becoming a new avenue for publishers and authors to gain access to readers and let them know about newly published books. The result is that an author’s blog readership, web site hits and even twitter followers are becoming new metrics for the publishing world to define the potential audience size for a book that could translate into sales. If an author has a platform or potential audience of book buyers that is big enough, a publisher is more likely to sign book deal.

Many of the conference attendees were fiction writers or retirees working on their memoir and struggled to understand how to use the internet to promote their book. We heard a few stories about how fiction writers have been building social media platforms – one writer started a blog by one of her characters. We wonder how readers will react when they discover the personal blog they are reading is a fictional character used to promote a book. Publishers now expect a web page for each book title and are urging writers to do speaking engagements, twitter their whereabouts, and use social media to promote book sales.

We had a couple of takeaways from the Writers conference. First we are convinced that social media is gaining momentum as the numbers of twitter followers and blog readers of some prominent authors are beginning to exceed the entire subscription rate of some major newspapers. As frustrating as it must be to newspaper writers and columnists, we believe that the demise of the newspaper is not because there are fewer readers, but because readers want control over what they read. Secondly, we were confronted with the impact of the slower economy in Waikiki by observing the empty store fronts and knowing that the attendees to the Writers conference, themselves struggling financially, were not going to be a big help with Hawaii's sales tax shortfall.