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Hiking Flattop Mountain in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo Credit: Nathaniel Wilder; used with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Childhood obesity is one of the leading public health concerns in America — and Alaska — today.
About 1 in 3 children are now overweight or obese.[1,2]
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children ages 6-11 and quadrupled in adolescents (ages 12-19) in the past 30 years. This is problematic because obese children and adolescents are at higher risk for health problems and are more likely to be obese as adults.
Obese youth are more likely to develop risk factors for cardiovascular disease (like high blood pressure), and have elevated risk for health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and orthopedic problems — conditions previously found mainly in adults. In addition, obese children have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can carry into adulthood.
26% of high school students are either overweight or obese;
35% of kindergarteners and 40% of 2- to 4-year-olds in Alaska are either overweight or obese;
Nearly 80% of Alaska high school students do not get the recommended amount of daily physical activity; and
Nine out of ten (89%) high school students in Alaska eat fewer than the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
What we are doing
Efforts to reduce overweight and obesity in Alaska have been underway for more than 10 years – starting with the creation of the State of Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program (OPCP) in 2003.
The mission of the program is to reduce and prevent obesity among Alaskans through the promotion of physical activity and good nutrition. To advance that mission, OPCP has developed a comprehensive statewide plan for reducing obesity in addition to providing a variety of resources documenting the burden of obesity on the health and finances of the state. The state OPCP currently has several successful initiatives in place, including the Play Every Day public education campaign that partners with the Healthy Futures program to motivate Alaska families and children to get out and play every day.
This fall, Play Every Day will roll out a new public education campaign aimed at reducing youth consumption of sugary drinks. The campaign will feature television public service announcements that will complement information and resources online. The campaign also sent educational posters to hundreds of schools across Alaska. Alaskans will be encouraged to drink water and low-fat milk, and elementary-age students who complete the Healthy Futures Challenge will receive a “Play Every Day” water bottle as a prize. The “drink water” message will be promoted at Anchorage Healthy Futures events, and Healthy Futures is field testing a program at several Anchorage middle schools where students will record their physical activity and their sugary drink intake with the goal of reducing or eliminating sugary drinks from their diets.
To reduce childhood obesity specifically, the Alaska Alliance for Healthy Kids was initiated with a statewide summit in the fall of 2013. The group’s mission is to reverse the upward trend of childhood overweight and obesity prevalence and its impact on the Alaska economy to improve the well-being of current and future Alaskans. The Alliance formed to expand the reach of an interagency taskforce of leaders in the health and education fields called Alaskans Taking on Childhood Obesity.
Other past and current OPCP initiatives to combat childhood obesity include mini-grants for schools to purchase salad bars and equipment; a partnership with Anchorage, Mat-Su, Kenai Peninsula and other school districts to monitor the weight status of students; and grants to schools to implement “Farm to School” projects. More recently, the Obesity Prevention School Grant Program is funding eight grantee school districts to create and implement strong school wellness policies related to physical activity and nutrition; increased daily activity; and improved nutrition environments by providing local farm fresh foods, Alaska fish and salad bars.
Weight status is being monitored in several school districts in Alaska using the Alaska Student Weight Status Surveillance System. Through the participation and assistance of schools, parents, programs, agencies, volunteers, and grantees, the OPCP is now seeing a reduction in childhood obesity. Childhood obesity prevalence among public school children in grades K, 1, 3, 5, and 7 in the Anchorage and Mat-Su school districts has decreased by 3.4%, from 17.4% in 2003-04 to 16.8% in 2013-14. While recognizing this important reduction, OPCP is continuing its initiatives to further lower obesity prevalence throughout Alaska and improve the health of children and adults.
Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association 2014;311(8):806-814.
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Alaska Obesity Facts Report – 2014. Anchorage, Alaska: Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Public Health, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; January 2014.
National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2013: With Special Feature on Prescription Drugs. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2014.
Freedman DS, Kettel L, Serdula MK, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS. The relation of childhood BMI to adult adiposity: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics 2005;115:22–27.
Freedman DS, Zuguo M, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS, Dietz WH. Cardiovascular risk factors and excess adiposity among overweight children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Journal of Pediatrics 2007;150(1):12–17.
Daniels S, Arnett D, Eckel R, et al. Overweight in children and adolescents: pathophysiology, consequences, prevention, and treatment. Circulation 2005;111:1999-2012.
CDC. Obesity in K–7 Students - Anchorage, Alaska, 2003–04 to 2010–11 School Years. MMWR. May 31, 2013/62(21);426-430.