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AK’s truly biggest problem?

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Grab the chips and beer and party down. Alaska could be on its way to again challenging for the title as the Fattest State in the Nation.

An early decade dip in the 49th-state obesity rate is clearly over, according to the StateofObesity.org, and the trend line for the decade has Alaskans on track to wrestle with the big men and big women of the state’s of the Deep South for fat honors.

Louisiana now holds the heavy-weight title. More than a third of the people who live there are obese.

Alaska is well back in 26th place with only about 30 percent of the population over weight. But the major dips in Alaksa obesity rates that showed up in 2010 and 2012 have been wiped out by steady gains since 2013, and Alaska appears to be back on the steady, upward trend line that started in 1995.

This would be funny if it was funny, but it’s not. Obesity has been linked to a long list of health problems and spiraling  economic costs in a nation on track to spend $1 of every $5 on health care by 2024, according to a study published by the journal Health Affairs.

Just a shade over 15 percent of Alaskans were obese in 1995. The state has almost doubled that number now and judging by the nifty, interactive graph on the State of Obesity website, it would appear Alaska should reach the doubling level by next year if the trend continues.

The state is up four percentage points since 2012. Alaska and Kansas are dueling as the fastest fattening states over that time span.

Alaska has already taken the national lead in old, fat people. State of Obesity puts the obesity rate at 34.7 percent for Alaskans age 65 and over. Louisiana is number two at 33.6 percent in that age group.

Alaska’s overall score is pulled down by an obesity rate under 20 percent for those age 18 to 25. Almost 30 percent of that age group are obese in Louisiana. Nationally, obesity is generally less a problem with young adults than old adults.

Obesity rates for young adults are below 20 percent in most states. Only about 10 percent of young adults in Utah are obese, but the rate jumps to 25 percent in the 26 to 44 age group.

The heaviest cohort in the nation comprises residents of West Virginia ages 45 to 64. More than 43 percent of the people in that group are reported to be obese. Five other states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma – reported obesity rates above 40 percent at ages 45 to 64.

In all those states, obesity rates drop significantly, usually be 10 percentage points or more, at and beyond age 65. How much of that decline is explained by early deaths is unknown.

But obesity has been linked to all sorts of potentially deadly health problems from heart attacks and stroke to cancer. The former illnesses were long tied to obesity. Recent research has added at least 13 different types of cancer to the list.

“Only smoking comes close” to obesity as a cancer cause, Dr. Graham Colditz, a professor of medicine and surgery at Washington University in St. Louis and the leader of a World Health Organization panel studying the obesity-cancer link told the New York Times. “And that’s an important message for nonsmokers. Obesity now goes to the top of the list of things to focus on.”

The WHO study found that 13 obesity-linked cancers now account for 42 percent of all new cancer diagnoses.

Obesity, however, is not just a health issue for the people who contract obesity-related illnesses. It is a national economic problem for all Alaskans and Americans.

“The estimated annual cost of treating obesity in the U.S. adult, non-institutionalized population is $168.4 billion,” according to a paper published by The National Bureau of Economic Research.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the U.S. government will subsidize national health care to the tune of $660 billion this year through the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and preferential tax treatment for employer health insurance. The portion of that cost tied to obesity is unknown, but it is clearly in the billions.

Various advocacy organizations and government entities have been warning for a decade now that obesity is a major national economic and health problem.

The Centers for Disease Control says obesity “is associated with poorer mental health outcomes, reduced quality of life, and (linked to) the leading causes of death in the U.S. and worldwide,” but the warning doesn’t seem to have done much to reduce the girth of Alaskans or other Americans.

The solution to the obesity problem is easy: eat less and exercise more. But obesity data makes it clear that implementing the solution is extremely difficult for many people.

 

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