Two-thirds of Alaska adults are obese or overweight, according to a report released Monday by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
According to the 2017 Alaska Obesity Facts report, 37 percent of adults here are overweight and 30 percent are obese. The percentage of overweight Alaskans has remained relatively stable since 1991, when recordkeeping began, but the proportion of obese adults in Alaska has more than doubled over the past 26 years, from 13 percent.
Those figures are above the national average.
The picture is more complicated for children, but the report indicates 31 percent of Alaska high school students are overweight or obese and 36 percent of 3-year-olds are overweight or obese.
Karol Fink, director of the state Obesity Prevention and Control Program, said there are a variety of reasons for the increase, and there’s no single factor involved.
“While two key behaviors are linked to excess weight — poor nutrition and physical inactivity — where you live, learn, work and play influences these behaviors and make them easier, or more challenging,” she wrote in an email to the Empire.
According to the state report, only 25 percent of Alaskan adults meet guidelines for exercise.
The report also indicates that 41 percent of adults spend three or more hours in front of a TV or computer screen, something that corresponds with a greater chance for obesity.
The state tracks obesity statistics for a variety of reasons, including the impact of obesity on state health care costs. Obesity is linked to a variety of medical problems, and if Alaskans have more health problems, it costs more to treat them.
According to a 2012 report, Alaska spends more than $459 million per year to deal with health problems caused by adult obesity.
The standard for labeling someone overweight or obese comes from the Body Mass Index, which uses height and weight.
The report’s data comes from a 2015 telephone survey conducted as part of a broader behavioral health study by the Alaska Division of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey results have been previously published by the CDC, but the new state report goes into greater detail.
National figures collected that year found 28 percent of American adults were obese; another 35.6 percent of American adults were overweight.
“High obesity rates are a national public health concern, not just an Alaska issue. Half of the states in the country, including Alaska, report at least 30 percent of their adults have obesity,” Fink said. “Alaska is not an outlier.”
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