For 20 years, faculty and students at the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) at Mānoa’s Office of Public Health Studies have served as external evaluators for the Healthy Hawaiʻi Initiative (HHI), a statewide effort to encourage healthy lifestyles and promote supportive environments, policies, and system changes. The role of the HHI Evaluation Team (HHIET) has evolved over time in response to the changing public health landscape, including broadening its scope to support the entire Chronic Disease and Prevention Health Promotion Division at the Hawaiʻi Department of Health.
HHI was created by the Hawaiʻi Department of Health (DOH) in 2000 with tobacco settlement funds, guided by a common vision to make “the healthy choice the easiest choice.” The Initiative also emphasized accessibility to public health data, published research, and evaluation reports, meant to advance its goals and bolster inter-sector partnerships. It thus required an evaluation team to support its goals.
To meet this need for research and evaluation, HHIET built an evaluation portfolio focused on reducing tobacco use, addressing physical inactivity, and improving nutrition. In recent years, led by co-PIs Drs. Sentell & Pirkle, HHIET has expanded their evaluation work to include chronic disease management programs and health systems’ strengthening to reflect evolving DOH priorities. They additionally provide support through technical assistance, capacity building, and research surveys.
The UH Evaluation Team’s diverse array of projects continues to document the impacts of HHI and foster collaboration between the university and DOH. A recent evaluation of Choose Healthy Now, a HHI point-of-decision prompt campaign in two major convenience store chains, found that the program had been successfully implemented due to the role of mutually beneficial partnerships, leadership buy-in, adaptability to retailer need, and statewide campaign reach. An article detailing the evaluation results, co-authored by DOH and HHIET staff, was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Another recent project sought to evaluate implementation of flavored tobacco legislation in other jurisdictions to support planning for a potential statewide ban in Hawai‘i. Interviewing a range of tobacco policy experts across the United States and Canada, the team identified supportive elements spanning four key areas: program planning and legislative preparations; education and community outreach, implementation and enforcement, and determining policy impact. An article co-authored by DOH and HHIET staff was recently published in Tobacco Control.
In response to the emergent COVID-19 pandemic, HHIET maintains its close relationship with DOH and continues its focus on addressing chronic conditions that elevate risk of severe illness, especially for marginalized populations. On the research front, the HHIET is leading a special issue in the Hawaiʻi Journal of Health and Social Welfare that seeks to examine root causes and solutions at the intersections of chronic disease and COVID-19. These efforts coincide with several ongoing evaluations that examine the impacts of COVID-19 on the local food environment and access to healthy and affordable foods.
For more information, please visit the HHIET website.