Study: Alaska's obesity rate among worst in US

Posted: Monday, November 30, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Alaskans are losing the battle of the bulge.

A Centers for Disease Control study says Alaska is the most overweight state this side of Texas. The study looked at the obesity issue on a region-by-region basis.

Figures show obesity rates of 30 percent or higher in 13 of 27 Alaska boroughs and census areas. Such rates are closer to the so-called "stroke belt" states like Mississippi and Alabama than the rest of the West.

Alaska's overall obesity rate of 27.1 percent puts the state just above the national average and ranks 22nd heaviest nationwide.

The Dillingham Census area in Southwest Alaska is the heaviest region, with a nearly 37 percent obesity rate. The North Slope Borough and Bethel Census area round out the top three.

"It's a combination of the more indoor, inactive lifestyle due to technology, TV and media as well as less hunting and gathering and play outside," said Dr. Gary Ferguson, director of wellness and prevention for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

While traditional Alaska Native foods such as salmon and seal can shield people from diabetes, much of the food on shelves in village stores is the kind of processed goods and sugary drinks that can lead to obesity, he said.

In 2008, the obesity rate for low-income, preschool-age American Indian and Alaska Native children was 21.2 percent, the highest youth rate among all race and ethnic groups, the CDC reports.

Alaskans get slightly more exercise than the national average and eat about as many fruits and vegetables as the rest of the country, said Karol Fink, obesity prevention and control program manager for the state.

Fink said in the Anchorage school district, obesity rates have leveled off over the past five years, though statewide the percentage of obese and overweight adults is growing by about 1 percentage point per year.

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