Alaskans have been pursuing healthier lifestyles by many measures, but disturbing trends of violence and suicide continue to plague the population, according to status reports released by the Alaska Department of Health.
The Healthy Alaskans 2020 final report and scorecard issued by the department early last week painted a mixed picture of progress over a decade. Among the 25 indicators measured were some targets accomplished but also some setbacks.
The program, a collaboration of the department and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, has been producing health improvement plans since 1994, with objectives defined for 10-year periods and progress measured periodically.
Among the striking improvements shown in the 2020 results released this week was a reduction in the rate of cancer deaths in Alaska. While cancer remains the leading cause of death in the state, the rate fell significantly, decreasing by 15.5% from 2000 to 2019, the scorecard said.
More positive news was shown in declines of tobacco use and binge drinking. Additionally, there was increased access to medical care and support, with targets met for affordability of doctor visits and for the percentage of adolescents who said they had at least three trusted adults in their lives to provide help if needed.
Negative trends shown in the scorecard were statistics for the various traumatic harms that Alaskans continue to suffer.
Suicide rates increased by about 26% from 2010 to 2019, and rates of rape increased by about 20% from 2013 to 2019, according to the scorecard. Rates of domestic violence increased, though not as dramatically, according to the scorecard.
Alaska consistently has one of the nation’s highest rates of suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wyoming was the only U.S. state with a higher 2020 suicide rate than Alaska. Alaska has long had much higher rates of rape and domestic violence than the national average, with Alaska Native women at particularly high risk.
The Healthy Alaskans 2020 scorecard also said that rates of death from unintentional injuries rose by 7.6% over the period. For years, Alaska has had one of the nation’s highest rates of deaths from accidental injuries.
Another area where trends are going in the wrong direction, according to the report, is obesity. Rates for both children and adults rose between 2010 and 2019, the report said, though a smaller percentage of adults were classified as “overweight,” a category not as serious as obesity. Alaskans’ exercise habits fell short of targets, the reports said.
In addition to the 2020 scorecard for Alaskans as a whole, a separate scorecard was released that tracked the same indicators for Alaska Natives, with mostly similar trends.
Along with the final assessments for the Healthy Alaskans 2020 improvement plan and targets, the department released some preliminary findings about progress toward goals for 2030 in the form of the first scorecard for the current decade.
That scorecard noted progress in several areas, including access to fluoridated water systems, the percentage of toddlers with well-child checkups, the percentage of population living above the poverty level and reductions in alcohol-induced death rates and tobacco use.
Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.