Pacific Islander Diabetes Prevention Program Storytelling Series: National Tongan American Society

AAPCHO
9 min readSep 27, 2023

This blog post was originally posted on the Pacific Islander Diabetes Prevention Program website.

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The Pacific Islander Diabetes Prevention Program (PI-DPP), is a year-long, evidence-based lifestyle change program recognized and supported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). PI-DPP was formed through a partnership between the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) and the Pacific Islander Center for Primary Care Excellence (PI-CoPCE) as a project funded by the CDC DP17–1705 grant to scale the CDC National DPP in underserved areas. Currently, PI-DPP consists of 11 sites throughout the U.S. and U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI).

Aligning with DPP success standards, participants aim for 5% body weight loss, 150 weekly physical activity minutes (PAMs), and lower HbA1C values.

Listen in each week as we highlight PI-DPP sites. Mililani Leui, Program Manager of PI-DPP, sits down with site representatives to hear about their community stories and program impacts.

This week, we spoke with Fahina Tavake-Pasi of the National Tongan American Society (NTAS). NTAS is a non-profit organization based in Utah, U.S. that advocates for Tongan-Americans and other Pacific Islanders. In this episode, Mililani and Fahina talk about community empowerment through diabetes education and the importance of family in one’s health journey.

Children dance around a dad/uncle at the Liahona Class Reunion hosted in West Valley City
Photo Courtesy of NTAS

Fahina: My name is Fahina Tavake-Pasi, and I’m the Executive Director here at the National Tongan American Society in Salt Lake City, Utah. We also have three other sites, one in Arizona, Texas, and Idaho. As far as the DPP, I also assist as the program coordinator, and then also help out here and there with teaching the PI-DPP classes.

Mililani: My name is Mililani, and I am the Program Manager for the Pacific Islander Diabetes Prevention Program.

Why is a program like this important for the community you serve?

Fahina: I think first and foremost is that here in Utah, Pacific Islanders, we have one of the highest rates of obesity. We also have one of the highest rates of folks that have diabetes and other diseases. And so, I think that’s probably why it’s really important is to inform our folks of our high rates of diabetes, and that how we need to take control and discipline ourselves as far as eating, control our eating, not to eat too much carbs and sweets, and sodas because we are heavy soda drinkers and sweet drink drinkers, and also just the importance of physical activity.

And I think even more important is the fact that what we do as parents is going to be passed on to our children. They’re going to see what we buy at the store, what we eat at home, how we cook our food, and things like that. And so, if what we are passing on to them is going to create or maintain the diabetes in the family, and things like that, that’s not good. So, we need to inform them, and I think a lot of our people are not really fully aware of that, that they can make a difference. Sometimes they think, “Oh, diabetes just comes whenever,” but the fact that they can have control to delay it, or even not to get it, I think is really important.

Mililani: Why is it important to tailor the program to your community’s specific needs?

Fahina: Our community needs to know that the lessons that we’re sharing with them is tailored to them, specifically, because first and foremost, we are taking into consideration what our eating habits are, what are the foods that we are eating, rice and potatoes, and mashed potatoes, or what have you. Some of our families eat that, but most of our family, they’ll eat like kumala, and ufi, and taro, and things like that. And so, we need to talk about foods that are specific to our community, also about physical activity.

The typical thing is to get out and go for a walk, or a run, or go to the gym. Our people, they don’t buy memberships at gyms and things like that. A lot of them can’t afford it. So, we have to tailor it and perhaps encourage them, because there’s like pickleball is really huge in our community right now. Maybe encourage them to go and play pickleball, take their kids out and go play pickleball or even just going to get up and dance, because we have a lot of events in our community, whether it’s through the church, or some kind of organization, or events that are coming up, or family reunions which is pretty frequent because there’s so many different families.

But when you go to the dances, just don’t sit, get up and dance type stuff, or get up and do things, or help out, or even just around the house. In our community, it’s very common for us to tell the kids, “go do this, go do that,” and we’re just sitting there, and something very simple as walking to the fridge and getting a drink, we try to encourage them, “Get up yourself, walk over there, get your own drink. Don’t p’ui. “P’ui” is the term that we use in Tongan to tell the kids to do this. Don’t p’ui on your children, get up and go do all the things that you are able to do.

Mililani: Is there any background information you would like to share to reinforce the importance of this program for your community? Mililani: What impact has your site had on the communities you serve?

Fahina: I guess maybe one of the things that’s important for our folks here in Utah, is that Utah is part of the top three or top five of the states that has one of the largest Pacific Islander populations, and the majority of our population reside here in Salt Lake City. Though we do have lots up north and lots down south, but the majority is in the Salt Lake City County, I would guess maybe 70%. I think that’s very important that we do have the capacity to reach a lot of our Pacific Islanders.

NTAS 2019–2022 Impact Report
Photo Courtesy of PI-DPP

Mililani: What impact has your site had on the communities you serve?

Fahina: I know we have a lot of impact, because a lot of people are making a difference, and people have lost weight. But I think one of the stories that come to mind is when we were talking to one of the mothers about her habits of eating and how that’s going to be transferred to her children, whatever her health habits are, or whatever her diseases or illnesses are, that has a very high likelihood to go on to her children, if she continues to eat the same way. Whatever she does, her child will follow, is basically what she shared and she just teared up.

You know, she started crying and she just said, “You know, I didn’t really think about that, how I’m affecting my child.” Her daughter, I think was maybe seven years old or something like that, but she was sitting there and she was already chubby because she gives them whatever she wants. She wants donuts, and cookies, and chips, and soda and all that stuff. She really did not think [of] the effect that would have on her child’s life.

And so, I think the impact of this program in our community is very important, though we don’t have everybody’s story, but I think the fact that they are getting healthier. We have lots more people playing pickleball. That seems to be the go-to thing for a lot of our community, because it’s fun, they can socialize, they can play with their children, they can play with their friends, family. Pickleball courts out here in Utah, in Salt Lake is packed almost every morning with a lot of Pacific Islanders playing pickleball. There’s also some folks that we’re working with that they provide Step classes, so there’s a lot of Pacific Islanders that are also into the step to promote trying to get healthier.

NTAS hosts its Free Mobile Medical Cancer Screening & Education Event at the Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, UT
Photo Courtesy of NTAS

Mililani: So, what are some of your site’s challenges and/or best practices for recruitment, retention, and general programming?

Fahina: I think some of the challenges are those that are finding it a little bit difficult, most especially those that are really obese, like super overweight, and those are the ones that we really want to help. They find it a little hard to get out. They can go play pickleball, but they can’t because they’re like 400, 500 pounds. The challenge is trying to get them to lose a little bit of weight, so that they can begin to maybe enjoy some other activities and other things.

So, that’s kind of like a real challenge, but one of the things that we are trying to do is we try to encourage their family members, whether it’s their children, or their parents, or cousins, or sisters, siblings, or what have you. It’s that we try to encourage them to work with them, whether it’s getting out and just walking with them, walk for a block or two or what have you, and come back.

Tabling Event held during the Community Health Fair and Affordable Care Act Enrollment at the Sorenson Center, Salt Lake City, UT
Photo Courtesy of NTAS

And so far what I think that we have for our program, we have a pretty good retention. I think one of the reasons why we have some good retention with some of our people is that if we have classes or talk about things like that; there’ll be some church meetings during a weekday, and then we will schedule it to go right after. Because oftentimes, we will recruit people from different churches, and we’ll hold things there. We will hold meetings right after, so that way, they don’t have to take another time out of their week to drive down somewhere and stuff. And so, that seems to help with the retention in the program.

NTAS’s Weekly Radio Show
Photo Courtesy of NTAS

Mililani: What future projects and/or goals does your site have for advancing diabetes prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles?

Fahina: First, we want to try and get more funding, identify funding. I think there’s the possibility that through Medicare/Medi-Cal, that they might be able to pay the time for our lifestyle coaches to help prevent diabetes.

And then of course, the other thing I think that’s really good is they get into the pickleball. There are tournaments, and I think once they get into that and they get pulled in, then it’s like we don’t really have to try very hard to keep them, because they’re having fun now. We’ve had two tournaments already, we have a couple coming up, we have one coming up this month. And the funny thing is that the same thing is kind of happening throughout, because people in California are coming up to play with us out here in this upcoming tournament. Everybody’s crazy about it in the Pacific Islander community.

And so, that seems to help everybody to keep them healthy, as far as physical activity. And then of course, the eating, we have to continue to remind them. And then the other thing is we also have a weekly radio show. You know, every month or something, we’ll have someone that they continue to talk a little bit about the importance of maintaining healthy eating and healthy activity, not only for self, but for the family as a whole.

We thank Fahina from the National Tongan American Society for speaking with us during this week’s segment. Please stay tuned for our next site highlight!

To learn more about the National Tongan American Society, please visit their website at https://www.ntasutah.org/ and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

To support NTAS in their pursuit of diabetes prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles, please contact Fahina Pasi at fahina@ntasutah.org for more information.

Facebook: @TheNTAS

Instagram: @ntas_801

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AAPCHO

The Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations — dedicated to promoting advocacy, collaboration and leadership to improve AA and NHPI health.