Project SEEK – 90% Overweight and Obese


By Alisi Tulua

90% of Pacific Islanders are overweight or obese, with 80% of Samoans and 67% of Tongans classified as obese, according to the 2012 Pacific Islander Health Study conducted by Dr. Sela Panapasa of the University of Michigan.  These numbers are scary; 90% means 9 out of every 10 Pacific Islanders (PI) you meet!  It means that in a room of 100 PIs, only 10 will be of normal weight.  These numbers collaborate the top three leading causes of death in the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) community; heart disease, cancer, and stroke.  It is also not surprising that while the number of deaths caused by diabetes decreased for all racial groups in Los Angeles County between 2005 and 2010, it was the fastest-growing cause of death for the NHPI community.

There is an urgency to put obesity at the center of health focus in the NHPI community.  Over the past 10 months, Project SEEK has focused on changing a social determinant that contributes to obesity for the Lennox and Hawthorne area; the environment.  With a coalition made up of the Hawthorne Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Parks Bureau, Los Angeles County Supervisor’s office, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and community members, promising practices were created and adopted to foster positive relationships between law enforcement and their community members.  The project focused on changing how safe the community feels in their environment so they can be more encouraged to take walks, take their kids to the park, participate in community sports teams, and build relationships with one another.  Principles such as gather community input, create partnerships, increase community unity and relationship building, overcome language barriers, provide education and training, and use technology, were created and adopted by the coalition in order to improve the way law enforcement and community interact with each other.  An example of a specific activity is the training provided for police officers on the Tongan community, their values and culture.  A greater understanding of the community that they serve will provide better and more compassionate service of that community.

The obesity numbers are staggering.  The number of deaths we see in the community is numbing.  Obesity is a killer in the community and efforts need to be varied and foundational.  Project SEEK is an opportunity to attack obesity at one of its roots and it is founded strongly in the work of a coalition that is passionate about looking at the problem a little bit differently.