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Health

Percentage of obese Alaskans more than doubled since 1991

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: October 17
  • Published October 16

The percent of Alaska adults considered obese more than doubled between 1991 and 2015, from 13 percent to 30 percent, according to a recent report from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Alaska's 2015 obesity rate doesn't differ much from the prior two years and hovers around the national average.

However, the plateau follows years of growth in the prevalence of obesity among adult Alaskans.

Karol Fink, director of the state health department's Obesity Prevention and Control program, said she expects the state's obesity rate to continue to rise, following the national trend.

She described the state's recent obesity data as somewhat surprising.

"It's surprising in some ways because we've put so much effort into obesity prevention and awareness around the issue," she said. "But it's also not surprising because we're looking at this every year and slowly obesity prevalence continues to creep up."

The health department released the 2015 obesity statistics in its 2017 Alaska Obesity Facts report last week.

The obesity data comes from an annual anonymous telephone survey of roughly 8,000 Alaskans. The survey is the state's main source of data for an array of health-related risk behaviors, including obesity, Fink said.

Fink said since Alaskans report their own height and weight in the survey, she expects Alaska's obesity rate is even higher than the 30 percent reported. Of the remainder of Alaskans interviewed, 37 were considered overweight but not obese, 32 percent were at a healthy weight and 1 percent were underweight.

"Too many Alaskans are overweight or obese," Fink said. "That's putting them at risk for heart disease, diabetes and 13 cancers."

Nationwide, 29.9 percent of adults are obese, according to 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data gathered from the telephone survey.

Obesity is measured using a person's body mass index, Fink said.

The Alaska health department said it releases the obesity facts report about every two years to support statewide obesity prevention efforts.

Here are some of the report's other key findings:

• About one-third of Alaska's high school students were either overweight or obese.

• Of the 10 school districts that participated in the report, the rate of overweight or obese students in kindergarten through eighth grade ranged from 32 percent at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District to 53 percent in the North Slope Borough School District.

• Thirty-six percent of Alaska 3-year-olds were considered overweight or obese.

• Ninety percent of Alaska high school students and 88 percent of Alaska adults were eating less than the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables.

• Seventy-nine percent of Alaska high school students and 76 percent of adult Alaskans did not get the recommended amount of physical activity.

• Outside work, 71 percent of adult Alaskans spent two or more hours in front of a screen each day and 53 percent of high school students spent three or more hours each day watching TV, playing video games or playing computer games.

• Nearly half of Alaska high school students and 23 percent of adults drank one or more sugary drinks per day.

• Each year, obesity costs Alaska nearly $460 million in direct medical health care expenses.

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