Survey shows Alaskans are smoking less, getting fatter

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Alaskans are smoking a lot less than they were five years ago, but a federal survey shows residents of the 49th state are slightly less healthy overall than the rest of the country.

The number of adult Alaskans who smoke has fallen from 29 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2007. On the other hand, only 12 states - all in the southeastern U.S. - showed higher rates of obesity than Alaska. In general, Alaskans have gotten older, fatter and more arthritic.

The numbers came from a survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ten years ago, only 19.7 percent of the state's population qualified as obese. In 2007, 28.2 percent of Alaskans rated as obese.

Along with the extra pounds has come a higher incidence of Alaskans who suffer from arthritis, up from 17 percent in 2001 to 25 percent in 2007.

Doctors say that people who are overweight add stress to the joints in the knees and hips that are most susceptible to arthritis.

But the condition is also a simple sign of aging, and Alaskans on average are older. In 1996, only 17 percent of Alaskans were older than 55, according to the CDC; now 25 percent are.

"This is the bad news about my job," said Dr. Jay Butler, the state's chief medical officer. "Which is to say: 'Look folks, we're all getting older and fatter.'"

Other findings in the survey show that Alaskans are:

Drinking less. The number who say they've had an alcoholic drink in the past 30 days decreased from 61.5 percent in 2001 to 54.8 percent in 2007.

Drinking more: The number who say they "binge drink" - defined as men who consume more than five drinks at a time, or women who consume more than four drinks at a time - has risen from 17 percent in 2006 to 19.2 percent in 2007.

Despite all this, 86 percent of Alaskans surveyed by the CDC self-rated their own health as "excellent," "very good" or "good."

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