Dr. Healani Chang - Clinical Behavioral Scientist/Pacific Biosciences
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Baseball, basketball, volleyball, football, surfing, canoe paddling, snorkeling, and swimming are all sports that are loved on the islands of Hawaii. As a kid, I participated in all of them. In Hawaii, all the children play sports together, both boys and girls. Whether in the water or on land, any sport was fair game, and my three brothers and I played all the time, though I particularly loved basketball.

To be a good athlete, I learned that I needed to make good choices and sometimes even sacrifices. Instead of candy, I had to eat an apple. Instead of being pressured into smoking or watching TV, I practiced my lay-up shot. What choices you make affect your body and can either help you on the court or hurt your performance. Because I made good choices, I excelled in sports and later received a scholarship to go to college at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

Along with making good choices, fans motivate athletes to play well. Family and friends were always on the sideline cheering my team on. As a Native Hawaiian, being part of a team was second nature to me. My culture practices Hawaiian values like Ohana, which is community, and Aloha, which is compassion to everyone. These are values that make a team strong.

In addition to the traditional Hawaiian values of honoring community and compassion, a strong team is built through each athleteís wellness. Wellness is being at your fullest potential of healthiness. This includes mental, physical, and social health. Your mental health includes your feelings and emotions. Your physical health involves your body and how well it functions. Your social health consists of how well you get along with others. These were all important aspects in how to be a good team player.

Because sports are so significant in Hawaii, I saw that health and wellness were very important and I became interested in how people make healthy choices. You make decisions every day that affect your health. A healthy decision is one in which you look at both the benefits and risks of an action you might take. This is now very much related to the field in which I work and study: public health. Helping people to make healthy decisions is at the heart of my work in public health.

A healthy decision I made, along with my teammates, was the decision to not smoke cigarettes. It was normal to see a lot of the people from my community smoking since Native Hawaiians smoke at a higher rate than other ethnic group in America. Deciding not to smoke cigarettes was hard when so many of my friends and extended family smoked.

Since smoking is such a huge issue for my community, Iím looking at developing a program to help people quit smoking that is suitable for Native Hawaiians. I hope to create a program that incorporates our values of Ohana and Aloha that will appeal to Native Hawaiian smokers, so we can work together as a group to stop smoking and to make healthier decisions. Iíve been speaking to community residents who are former and current smokers. Iím asking what their ideas are and what it would take for me to create a program that they would attend to stop smoking. By speaking to the community with compassion, I hope to find the reasons why Native Hawaiians smoke at the rate we do.

As a child, I really enjoyed being part of a team. Now, as an adult, in my work as a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I hope to help people move forward in their lives by making healthier choices. This is a group effort, and you can help too. Be healthy!


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