FAIRBANKS — Alaskans are more than twice as likely to be obese as they were two decades ago, according to a new report by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
The report, which was released last month, compares obesity statistics in the state from 1991 to 2010. During that time, obesity rates have soared from 13 percent to 27 percent among adults. Two-thirds of the state’s residents are considered either overweight or obese, up from about half during the same span.
The state’s climbing obesity rates follow a national trend. And like the rest of the U.S., Alaska officials are concerned about the financial toll of that extra weight in the years ahead.
Alaska spends an estimated $459 million per year on direct medical health care costs related to obesity, according to the report. Alaska Medicaid spending attributable to obesity is projected to rise from $144 million in 2010 to $684 million in 2030 if current trends continue.
“It’s pretty staggering … We’re worried about it, which is why we’re constantly monitoring it,” said Karol Fink, the state’s obesity prevention program manager.
The news that Alaskans are getting fatter, however, isn’t recent news. The report shows a long-term rise of about 1 percent a year in the number of overweight residents during the past few decades, Fink said.
Weight categories are tallied through a formula called Body Mass Index. BMI is calculated as weight in pounds divided by height in inches squared, multiplied by 703. Adults with BMI ranges of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while those above 30 are considered obese.
Alaska has plenty of company among other states in its struggle with obesity, but the state is still heavier than average compared to its peers. Alaska ranks 23rd among the states and District of Columbia, according to a study by the national Centers for Disease Control, a list topped by Mississippi (35 percent obese), with Colorado (21 percent) at the bottom.
Fink said the state has been doing obesity surveys for years but added a few new wrinkles for its latest report.
Questions about diet showed that 77 percent of Alaska adults eat fewer than the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, while 46 percent consume one or more sugar-sweetened beverages each day. Alaska Native adults, at 68 percent, are considerably more likely to consume daily sugary drinks.
Among possible obesity prevention strategies, those surveyed supported taxes on soda (60 percent) and junk food (56 percent) that would fund obesity prevention efforts. The report also showed the number of schools where candy or salty snacks has been on a steady decline in the past decade. A slim majority of schools sold those products in 2002, but only about a quarter did in 2010.
The survey also questioned who has “some or a lot of responsibility” for addressing the growing obesity problem. The answer: everybody.
Responsible parties for the epidemic, according to the survey, included parents (96 percent), individuals (95 percent), doctors (85 percent), schools (83 percent), the food industry (75 percent) and government (57 percent).
Fink agreed that a coordinated effort is what will likely be needed to reverse the trend.
“We’re going to need everyone working together to address obesity,” she said. “There’s no silver bullet.”
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.