Categorized | Health

HO‘ALA project awakens need for safe routes to eliminate childhood obesity


On the heels of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ambitious “Let’s Move” initiative to eliminate childhood obesity in a single generation, a nearly $150,000 grant will fund a new school-community-government partnership to fight obesity in Hawai‘i County.

Hawai‘i is one of only eight locations in the U.S. to receive the “rapid response funding award” from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, through the Active Living Research Program. In Hawai‘i, the funding creates a program called HO‘ALA—which stands for Hawai‘i’s Opportunity for Active Living Advancement. The word means “to waken” in the Native Hawaiian language.

HO‘ALA coordinators in Hawai‘i are Laura Dierenfield of Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawai‘i and Katie Heinrich with UH Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), Office of Public Health Studies. Their goal is to improve access to active modes of transportation to and from school.

HO‘ALA will focus on tracking changes to existing transportation policies and bicycle and pedestrian planning efforts. This will include attending meetings for the Complete Streets Task Force convened by the Hawai‘i State Department of Transportation, the Statewide Bicycle Plan Implementation Plan, and the Statewide Pedestrian Master Plan. “We want to make it easy, fun and safe to get daily exercise by walking or bicycling to school,” said Dierenfield. “Together, we hope to reform existing transportation policies, accelerate planning for new bicycle and pedestrian construction and address specific traffic safety problems around schools.”

Twelve schools across Hawai‘i Island will be selected to take part in HO‘ALA. “Interested elementary schools in Hawai‘i County are urged to apply now,” Heinrich said. To qualify, schools must have at least 35% of their students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch.

Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawai‘i is looking for people to join the HO‘ALA project as Safe Routes to School evaluators. Evaluators will undergo training to complete transportation evaluations, and they will be compensated for their time and mileage.

“We believe HO‘ALA will have social and economic benefits for Hawai‘i,” said Heinrich. “We hope to impact childhood obesity and help reduce the nearly $300 million spent annually in Hawai‘i to treat obesity-related diseases.”

For more information on these opportunities, visit the Peoples Access to Trails Hawai‘i web site at, email PATH at, or call 808-936-4653.

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