Report: 66 percent of Alaska adults are overweight

Percentage grew from 49 percent in 1991 to two thirds in 2007

Posted: Sunday, January 03, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Alaska has a weight problem.

An analysis done by the state Department of Health and Social Services concluded the number of Alaskans classified as overweight or obese has increased an average of about 1 percent a year since 1991.

The percentage of overweight adults in the state grew from 49 percent in 1991 to 66 percent in 2007.

Obese adults are twice as likely as those with normal weights to be diagnosed with high blood pressure. They also are six times more likely to suffer from diabetes.

The state survey considered body mass indexes - a calculation based on weight and height - to determine if people are normal weight, overweight or obese.

Among those with the highest levels of obesity were Alaska Natives, women with household incomes of $15,000 or less, and women who do not finish high school.

The report sounded a hopeful note by saying overweight and obesity rates have leveled off in the Anchorage School District. The above-normal-weight percentage peaked at 38 percent of students in 2002-2003. By the 2007-2008 school year, it had dropped to 36 percent.

The state pulled information from multiple sources, including an annual survey of about 2,500 people conducted by the Alaska Division of Public Health cooperatively with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obesity with tobacco use is considered the biggest, most preventable cause of death and disability.

The state makes a significant effort to get people to quit smoking and chewing tobacco, spending several million dollars annually from a fund created from a 1998 legal settlement and from tobacco taxes. There is only a small state program to combat weight gain.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin's attempt to put nearly $1 million in state money toward addressing childhood obesity did not make it through the Legislature in 2009.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said he was not persuaded the money was needed when funds were available from the federal government. The state eventually received $476,000 through the CDC.

The administration proposed the million-dollar program to study weight gain trends in the Matanuska-Susitna and the Anchorage school districts then develop a comprehensive anti-obesity program.

Hawker said he thought the program amounted to using schoolchildren as "lab rats."

"They failed to convince me we need a long-term state program at a time when we're looking a declining state revenues," he said. "We'll see what they propose this year."

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