CALIFORNIA WELCOMES KING OF TONGA TAUFA‘AHAU TUPOU IV

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By Katalina Uili Tohi

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (July 16, 2001 - PIDP/CPIS)---Tonga’s King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV received a special welcome in the San Francisco Bay Area last week.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that medical conferences normally aren't very regal, but the subject of a Stanford University consideration of the health of Pacific Islanders attracted His Majesty and all the royal trappings.

The king kicked off the conference last Thursday evening by extolling the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to a small group of healthcare workers and Bay Area Pacific Islanders at Stanford's Bechtel Hall.

"Over the years, we've been trying to stress the importance of not introducing harmful substances into the bodies and lives of people," the 83-year-old King said.

For many years, a top priority for the Tongan king has been his subjects' health, which is dismal thanks to diets of fattening foods.

His top priority, according to the newspaper report, is the health of his people.

Tongans and other Pacific Islanders suffer from high rates of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

The king made international news several years ago when he set an example by losing more than 150 pounds.

At the conference, Tongan physicians educated local healthcare workers on the culture of Pacific Islanders, in hopes of improving the workers' ability to care for their patients.

There are more than 67,000 Bay Area residents who claim Hawaiian or other Pacific Island heritage.

An East Palo Alto group called Pacific Islander Outreach organized the conference.

"You can't give medical care to people whose culture you don't understand,'' said Dr. Judy Palmer, a retired Stanford pediatrician who is on the board of Pacific Islander Outreach.

"For example, coconut oil is a strong cultural thing. People have tried to intervene by having them substitute, but it doesn't work. You're better off telling them just to cut back.''

Many healthcare workers have observed that Pacific Islanders often turn to traditional medicine, but it is important to understand why, Palmer continued.

"They're not opposed to Western medicine, but often they have no health insurance, so they use traditional medicine because they can't afford Western medicine,'' she said.

According to the Mercury News report, the conference also presented the specifics of "His Majesty's Healthy Lifestyle,'' developed by the Tongan king and his royal physician. It promotes a proper diet, exercise, no smoking and the avoidance of alcohol. Pacific Islander Outreach promotes it to the sizable Pacific Islander community in East Palo Alto.

"Health -- that's everything,'' said Senter Uhilamolang, one of the organizers of the event, which had been in the works for more than two years.

"We want to help the medical community get connected with our traditional way of life so they can take that into consideration.''

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