Maui Catalyst improves health outcomes with local produce

Video: Maui Catalyst improves health outcomes with local produce

Food insecurity is associated with chronic health conditions including diabetes. In Hawaiʻi, where 11% of adults have diabetes and 37% have prediabetes, access to healthy and nutritious food represents a significant barrier to managing health.1 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.2 The poverty rate in Maui county has increased 70% since 2021, and residents who are Native Hawaiian, American Indian and Alaska Native are more likely to experience poverty than White residents.3 Additionally, 85-90% of the state’s food – equivalent to an estimated $3.1 billion – is imported from outside of Hawaiʻi, creating a staggering need to increase production of locally-farmed food.4

UnitedHealthcare Catalyst™ is a community-led initiative that brings together community health data analysis and local perspectives in the community to better understand the highest-priority health challenges. Collective input from community partners guides the Catalyst approach in identifying health and social needs to measure and address. In Maui, the Catalyst program aims to increase access to locally-farmed food and improve health outcomes for people who are at-risk or diagnosed with diabetes by bringing together community partners:

  • Mālama I Ke Ola Health Center: A Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) serving the Maui community,
  • WaiPono Farm at University of Hawaiʻi Maui College: A sustainable aquaponics and hydroponics greenhouse
  • Kanu Ka ‘Ike: A network of community farmers and organization advocating for Native Hawaiian and Indigenous people
  • Hawaii Integrated Analytics: A local analytics team measuring program outcomes

Mālama I Ke Ola Health Center identified patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes or are at risk of developing diabetes. Those patients were enrolled to receive boxes of fresh produce and attend classes to learn about healthy eating and how to cook meals with their food box, all at no cost to the patient. The fresh produce is supplied by local farmers with Kanu Ka ‘Ike and the Aquaponics Greenhouse at University of Hawaiʻi. The food harvested includes leafy produce like kalo, lettuce and bok choy, and vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, and carrots.

Utilizing locally-sourced food is critical to reducing reliance on imported food and bolstering producers within the community. Beyond increasing access to healthy foods to improve health outcomes, cultural alignment is also a key component of the program. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity – with nearly one in five reporting limited or uncertain access to food. For this reason, the partners specifically engaged farmers who grow Hawaiian crops.

As a result of the Catalyst program:

- WaiPono Aquaponic Greenhouse has increased food production by 83% and has produced eight new crops.

- Kanu Ka ’Ike has harvest over 1,000 pounds of kalo, which is used to make poi, a key staple of the Hawaiian diet.

- Program patients are more engaged with their health and are better equipped with tools and resources to manage their diabetes or prediabetes.

- 30% of patients in the program have already seen improved outcomes, including blood pressure and hemoglobin A1C measurements.

“Our kuleana at UnitedHealthcare is to help people live healthier lives,” said Kalani Redmayne, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Hawaiʻi. “Through programs like UnitedHealthcare Catalyst, we can work within our communities to ensure that people in the community have access to healthy food and education around nutrition.”

The Catalyst program aims to address food insecurity and improve health outcomes for people with chronic conditions. At the same time, the program enables local farmers to scale up and expand capacity to plant and harvest more food for residents, with the goal of creating a more sustainable and community-driven food system in Maui.

Get updates on Medicaid topics you care about

Be the first to know about relevant news & insights by subscribing to our newsletter.