UH Med Now

Expectant Native Hawaiian women to contribute to a healthy future for their babies, their communities

Date: September 23rd, 2021 in Collaboration, Community Outreach, Faculty, Family Medicine, JABSOM News, MINORITY, Native Hawaiian, Native Hawaiian Health, OB-GYN, Pediatrics, Rural    Print or PDF

Scant data is available about the dietary habits of expectant and new mothers and their infants in the Native Hawaiian (NH) community. When many different populations and cultures are lumped together by surveys and the federal census into that “other” category it is impossible to tease out any data of value.

NH are one of the highest-risk populations for cardiometabolic diseases in the US with higher  prevalence rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular risk factors in comparison to other US population groups. Weight status early in life influences weight status later in life, therefore reducing obesity early in life can improve health outcomes for the NH population. 

That’s why the University of Hawaiʻi Manoa (UHM) Department of Human Nutrition, Food, and Animal Sciences, in collaboration with the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), UH Cancer Center, and Purdue University are conducting the study “Exploring Diet Diversity of Native Hawaiian Infants.”

FNCE Philly 2019

Marie Kainoa Fialkowski Revilla, PhD, MS, RDN, LD, IBC
Associate Professor in Human Nutrition

“There isn’t enough information about how Native Hawaiian babies are eating and growing,” said Marie Kainoa Fialkowski Revilla, PhD, RDN, LD, IBC, Associate Professor in Human Nutrition at UHM and principal investigator of the study. “Through promoting healthy and thriving babies, new mommies and families, we are hopeful that improved outcomes would follow. This study will make a meaningful impact on the Native Hawaiian community.”

Using focus groups of new mothers and babies from across the state of Hawai’i, the resulting qualitative findings will guide the  development of intervention strategies and future study design. This study aims to determine relationships between critical first feeding milestones and growth in NH infants, and: 

  • Estimate alignment between maternal diet diversity and infant diet diversity.
  • Determine strategies to promote delayed introduction of first foods at about six months.
  • Maintain a diverse diet at 12 months of age and beyond for the NH babies. 
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Study participants will be provided an app to track baby feedings and what mother is eating, too. Click the photo to watch the video at: https://youtu.be/YbosECN5IS4

Expectant mothers must be Native Hawaiian, 18 years and over, live in Hawai’i, and have a smartphone to download the study’s app. Baby’s vitals are recorded from birth, and mom completes a survey when baby is 2 months old. Then at the 4th, 6th, 9th, and 12th months, mom will use the app to take photos of her meals and the baby’s meals for 3 days. No baby pictures and no selfies are required. Anyone with decent Instagram skills can do this, said Revilla. “Don’t we all take pictures of our food?”

Dr. Bliss Kaneshiro, Program Director of Family Planning at the JABSOM OB-GYN Department is assisting Revilla. Kaneshiro said, “I love being a part of Dr. Revilla’s study because it’s so easy for patients to participate. I think parents, children, and families will really benefit from the results of this study. Studies done in other parts of the country just don’t apply here in Hawai’i because of our racial diversity which plays a role in the food we eat and the food we provide to our babies.”

The National Institutes for Health has funded the project through JABSOM and Ola HAWAII:  Ola means health in Hawaiian, and the acronym HAWAII stands for Health And Wellness Achieved by Impacting Inequalities. Revilla and Kaneshiro are eager to collect the data that can make a difference in daily health and wellness choices made by those in the Native Hawaiian community. 

“The study is designed to promote healthy thriving babies, new mothers, and families. Attention to diversity is underway and the data should be reflective of diverse populations,” Revilla said. “Data has to be collected in such a way that is appropriate and it must make an impact on the Native Hawaiian population. Our staff of Native Hawaiian researchers and students should be inspiring to lahui.”


By Paula Bender, JABSOM Med News

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