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Suicide, obesity rates increase in Alaska

Posted: Sunday, May 02, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The rates for suicide, obesity and infant deaths in Alaska have increased over the past decade.

State health officials said Friday that Alaska fell short on nearly all the top health care goals a statewide council set in 2001 to achieve by the end of the decade.

But there was some good news. The state met its goal to reduce teenage smoking, and Alaska improved in nine of 17 leading health indicators.

Officials said the number of people dying in car crashes is on the decline, murder is down statewide and more teenagers are using condoms.

Health planner Alice Rarig told a biennial rural health conference in Anchorage the goals the state Health Department proposed in 2001 were "ambitious but achievable targets" for 2010.

"We didn't want to be wimping around and say, well, let's see what we can achieve. We wanted to be idealistic about it," Rarig said.

But the effort did not include strategies for actually meeting the goals, said Rarig, who works for the state section of Health Planning and Systems Development.

The initiative was launched near the end of Gov. Tony Knowles' second and final term as governor, and organizers didn't want to suggest policies that the next governor might throw out, Rarig said.

"We ran into politics," she told an audience of about 30 people at the rural health conference.

Public Health Director Ward Hurlburt said that obesity has become one of the state's most expensive health problems.

Complications from obesity such as diabetes and high blood pressure generate about $465 million in medical bills a year in Alaska, he said.

But Hurlburt also told the group that Alaska immunized 82 percent of seniors against the seasonal flu in 2009 and 2010, the highest rate of any state according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



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