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Alaskan Obesity Epidemic

Written By: Nicolas Pobieglo





























Obesity has become an epidemic problem in the United States as a whole and
especially within rural Alaska. The leading causes of obesity are the mass consumption
of processed calories, the insufficient consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables and
the lack of exercise to burn the excess calories off. While there has been some
governmental regulation aimed at curbing this ever-increasing problem, action at both
State and Local levels has been lacking.

Alaska is the 27
th
fattest state in the union. It ranks 47
th
in population. More than
half of Alaskan adults are not at a healthy weight. Weight issues are more prevalent in
the Bush than in Anchorage due to the economies of size and logistics. The total
population of Alaska at the last census was 720,000. Approximately 300,000 of those
live in Anchorage and about 60,000 live in Bush communities. Much of rural Alaska is
inaccessible except by plane, boat or snow machine. The cost and time involved in
shipping goods restricts the variety of goods that are shipped and increases the cost of
those goods astronomically.

The majority of people living in Anchorage are Caucasian at 67% with 8%
Alaskan Native and 25% other races. The racial composite of rural Alaska is
predominantly Alaskan Native at 78% with 22% other races, including Caucasians. In
1991, 14% of people living in Anchorage were overweight compared to 17% of people
living in rural Alaska. By 2012 the number of overweight people in Anchorage doubled
to 28%, meanwhile the number of overweight people living in rural Alaska increased to
30%. In 1991, fourteen percent of Caucasians living in Alaska were obese compared to
16% of Native Alaskans. In 2012, the number of obese Caucasians doubled to 28%
while the number of obese Native Alaskans more than doubled to 35%. The majority of
the population of Anchorage is Caucasian, while the majority of the population of rural
Alaska is Native Alaskan.

One of the leading causes of obesity is the lack of access to healthy foods or the
cost of healthy foods. The diet in rural Alaska has traditionally relied on subsistence
hunting, fishing, and gathering. Since the introduction of major food industries in Alaska,
and other cultural and societal changes, subsistence has taken a back seat. Grocery
stores are now filled with processed, cheap and quick-to-make foods that have since
replaced traditional hunting and gathering.

Alaska has the fourth highest cost of living in the United States; 31% higher than
the national average. The average cost to feed a family of four in Anchorage in 1990
was only $100. The average cost to feed a family of four in Bethel was $150. In 2012
the average cost to feed a family of four in Anchorage was $120. In 2012 the average
cost to feed a family of four in Bethel was $240, double what it costs in Anchorage. A
gallon of milk in Anchorage is $4.29 and a liter of soda is $1. A gallon of milk in Bethel is
$14.50 and a liter of soda is. The average median income in Anchorage in 2012 was
about $38,250 per person. The average median income in Bethel in 2012 was about
$24,050 per person. The median income in Bethel is 2/3 of that in Anchorage but the
cost to feed a family of four is more than double. This means that people in rural Alaska
need to make cost-cutting decisions that may not always be the healthiest choices they
can make.

There are nearly 100 fast food locations in Anchorage, 6 farmers markets that
are very seasonal and only operate one or two days out of the week. There are
approximately 25 grocery stores in Anchorage where both healthy and heavily
processed foods can be purchased and 3 whole foods markets. There are 15
restaurants and fast food places and two grocery stores in Bethel, a town of 7000
people.

Each year about 53% of Caucasian people in Alaska buy food from a farmers
market, 40% grow some sort of crop and consume it and 68% occasionally go hunting
and fishing and consume their catch. Each year only 35% of Native Alaskans purchase
food occasionally from a farmers market, 19% grow some sort of crop and consume it
and 73% occasionally go hunting and fishing and consume their catch. Native Alaskans
are traditionally fisher people and hunter gatherers as opposed to farmers. Farmers
markets are less common in Bush communities than in the more heavily populated
urban areas and produce is significantly more expensive in the Bush communities than
in the urban areas.

In 2004, 26% of Alaskans ate the recommended fruit servings. This increased
slightly by 2014 when 29% of Alaskans surveyed ate the recommended fruit servings.
In 2004, 11% of Alaskans ate the recommended vegetable servings. This also
increased slightly by 2014, when 16% of Alaskans surveyed ate the recommended
vegetable servings.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has recently revised the
guidelines for all Americans regarding their nutritional needs. A six foot male that
weighs about 180 pounds and is moderately active should consume between 3000 and
3500 calories a day. A healthy days worth of meals should include; 11 servings of
grains, 5 servings of vegetables, 4 servings of fruit, 3 servings of dairy, 3 servings of
protein and very little fats and sugars which breaks down to 480 grams of carbs, 100
grams of fat , 175 grams of protein, not more than 85 grams of sugar and 1,750 grams
of sodium a day. A healthy meal should consist of 55% carbohydrates, 25% fats and
20% protein.

A sampling of a single days meals at McDonalds might look like this:
Breakfast of a bacon, egg and cheese mcgriddle, two hash browns and a large
iced caramel mocha. This meal consists of 1,210 calories, 55 grams of fat, 142
grams of carbs, 34 grams of protein, 2,120 milligrams of sodium and 73 grams of
sugar.
A snack of a honey mustard snack wrap, a medium fry and a medium coke. This
meal consists of 1,080 calories, 32 grams of fat, 133 grams of carbs, 18 grams of
protein, 940 milligrams of sodium and 60 grams of sugar.
Lunch of a double quarter pounder with cheese, a large fry and a large coke.
This meal consists of 1,530 calories, 66 grams of fat, 186 grams of carbs, 53
grams of protein, 1,590 milligrams of sodium and 86 grams of sugar.
A second snack of the same honey mustard snack wrap, a medium fry and a
medium coke. This meal consists of 1,080 calories, 32 grams of fat, 133 grams of
carbs, 18 grams of protein, 940 milligrams of sodium and 60 grams of sugar.
Dinner consisting of a double quarter pounder with cheese, a large fry and a
large coke. This meal consists of 1,530 calories, 66 grams of fat, 186 grams of
carbs, 53 grams of protein, 1,590 milligrams of sodium and 86 grams of sugar.
Then a dessert of a large iced caramel mocha and a medium Oreo Mcflurry. This
meal consists of 960 calories, 33 grams of fat, 144 grams of carbs, 25 grams of
protein, 530 milligrams of sodium and 122 grams of sugar.

In a day all these meals combined equate to a total of 6,990 calories, 284 grams
of fat, 924 grams of carbs, 201 grams of protein, and 7,730 milligrams of sodium and
487 grams of sugar. The caloric intake for this meal is over double the recommended
guidelines. The fats are almost triple the recommended amount, the carbs are double
the recommended amounts and so is the protein. The sugar in this meal is almost six
times the recommended and the sodium is almost five times the recommended.

A sampling of a healthy days meals would include:
Breakfast of two slices of whole grain toast, one tablespoon of peanut butter, one
cup of greek yogurt, two eggs cooked to choice, one half cup of oatmeal and one
cup of strawberries. This meal consists of 715 calories, 23 grams of fat, 52 grams
of protein, 85 grams of carbs, 518 milligrams of sodium and 14 grams of sugar.
A healthy snack of one ounce of almonds and one cup of blueberries. This meal
consists of 184 calories, 9.5 grams of fat, five grams of protein, 24.4 grams of
carbs, one and a half milligrams of sodium and 16 grams of sugar.
Lunch consisting of three ounces of grilled chicken breast, two cups of leafy
lettuce, one half cup of chopped cucumbers, one half cup of cherry tomatoes and
one cup of brown rice. This meal consists of 395 calories, five grams of fat, 33.1
grams of protein, 54 grams of carbs, 91 milligrams of sodium and four grams of
sugar.
A second snack of a cup of vegetable juice, three ounces of reduced fat cheese,
one quarter cup of raisins and ten whole grain crackers. This meal consists of
598 calories, 24 grams of fat, 26 grams of protein, 75 grams of carbs, 1,136
milligrams of sodium and 33 grams of sugar.
Dinner of three ounces of grilled salmon, one cup of steamed broccoli and one
cup of whole grain pasta. This meal consists of 505 calories, 16 grams of fat, 35
grams of protein, 55 grams of carbs, 180 milligrams of sodium and three grams
of sugar.
A third snack of three cups of dry air popped popcorn, one ounce of dry roasted
peanuts and one cup of kefir. This meal consists of 413 calories, 17 grams of fat,
24 grams of protein, 45 grams of carbs, 317 milligrams of sodium and 23 grams
of sugar.

In a day all these meals combined equate to a total of 2,810 calories, 95 grams
of fat, 175 grams of protein, 338 grams of carbs, 2,234 milligrams of sodium and 91
grams of sugar. The caloric intake in this meal fits within the recommended guidelines
as well is the fats, protein and carbs. The sugar and sodium intake for this meal is
slightly over the recommended guidelines.
The two main dietary culprits that contribute to obesity are refined carbs and
saturated and trans fats.
There are 3 kinds of fats: unsaturated, saturated and trans fats. Unsaturated fats
are liquid at room temperature and are generally considered to be healthy fats.
Examples of unsaturated fats are olive oil, avocado oil and sunflower oil. Saturated fats
are solid at room temperature and are typically unhealthy for you because they raise
your bad cholesterol. Examples of unsaturated fats are lard, shortening and butter.
Trans fats are the worst kind of fat a person can consume because they not only
increase your bad cholesterol, but they also decrease your good cholesterol. These are
artificially produced fats that are made to increase shelf life while maintaining foods
proper texture. They are cheap and easy to produce and make good filler in processed
foods.
Sugar is a refined carb that the body processes differently and is as addictive as
cocaine. Excess amounts of sugar can lead to obesity and diabetes. In 1822 United
States citizens only consumed 45 grams of sugar every five days or the equivalent of
one 12 ounce soda. In 2012 United States citizens consumed 765 grams of sugar every
five days. This is the equivalent of seventeen 12 ounce sodas. Approximately 42% of
Alaskan adults consume 1 or more sugary beverages a day. A sugary beverage is
defined as a soda, an energy drink, sweetened juices and other drinks with sugar or
sugar substitute added. About 12% of Caucasian people in Alaska consume 3 or more
sugary beverages, while nearly three times as many Alaskan Natives consume three or
more sugary beverages per day, or 34%.
And its not just adults, either. 34% of Caucasian teenagers consume 1 or more
sugary beverages a day while 58% of Native Alaskan teenagers consume 1 or more
sugary beverages a day. Exactly 16% of children living in Anchorage consume soda
frequently, and 28% consume other various sugared beverages. Roughly 47% of
children living in Rural Alaska consume soda frequently and 75% consume other
various sugared beverages.
Of Alaskan teens, 26% are not at a healthy weight with 14% being overweight
and 12% being obese. 40% of young Alaskan children are not at a healthy weight, with
15% being overweight and 25% being obese.
Along with a healthy diet, physical activity is necessary to maintain a healthy
lifestyle and avoid obesity. Physical activity can be broken down into aerobic and
muscle strengthening. It is recommended that adults should participate in 150 minutes
of aerobic activity a week and 120 minutes of strengthening activities a week. Forty
Eight percent of Alaskan Natives dont meet the aerobic activity guidelines and 74% of
Alaskan Natives dont meet the physical strengthening guidelines. Approximately 39%
of Caucasians dont meet the aerobic activity guidelines and 67% of Caucasians dont
meet the physical strengthening guidelines. 79% of Alaskas youth dont meet the
recommended 60 minutes of any physical activity a day.
Obesity is a public health crisis that requires the involvement of the government.
In the United States, much of the authority for public health policy lies at the state and
local levels. This is accomplished through actions taken by the state legislature and the
authority imparted to local governments through the state constitution. Much of the
political activity surrounding obesity policy has occurred within state legislatures rather
than the federal government. Within the past few years, many states have introduced
legislation that focuses on obesity prevention in youth, typically through increasing
physical activity and improving nutrition within the school and community environments.

In 2013 while other states worked to eradicate the obesity crisis, the state of
Alaska developed a task force. The task force was made to study the issues at hand.
Other states have enacted legislation that tackles topics such as: school nutrition,
physical education and activity, school wellness, joint-shared use agreements and
insurance coverage for obesity.

The Anchorage School District has implemented required physical activity
standards for all students. This includes two semesters of physical activity credits and a
semester of Lifetime Personal Fitness for high school students. Middle school students
are required to have Physical Education both 7
th
and 8
th
grade years. Elementary
school students also have physical education standards but the time spend in physical
education class is far less than the recommended 60 minutes per day.

In 2006, the Anchorage School district adopted a new wellness policy that
affected what could be placed in vending machines and sold in school stores that
states: All foods available in district schools during the school day shall be offered to
students with consideration for promoting student health and reducing childhood
obesity. Foods and beverages provided through the National School Lunch or School
Breakfast Programs shall comply with federal nutrition standards under the School
Meals Initiative. To the maximum extent practicable, all schools will participate in
available federal school meal programs. All other foods and beverages made available
on campus during the school day (including, but not limited to vending, concessions, a
la carte, student stores, classroom parties and fundraising) will be consistent with
nutrition standards developed by the superintendent or designees and be based upon
U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These standards should promote the benefits of
good nutrition and maintaining a healthy weight.


Bethel is part of the Lower Kuskokwim School District. 2 semesters pe to
graduate and 2 semesters of health

In 2012, the federal government enacted legislation that applied to federally-
subsidized meals called Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School
Breakfast Programs. Many local school districts, including the Anchorage School
District, have adopted nutritional policies based on these requirements. Some of the
things that this legislation accomplished was to require that schools do such things as
offer fruits and specific vegetable supgroups as two separate meal components, limit
the starchy vegetables offered, offer whole grains, offer low fat and fat free milk, reduce
the sodium content of meals and prepare meals using ingrediants that contain no trans
fats.

In order to help combat obesity, assistance will be needed on all levels of
government.




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