Officials Discuss State’s Obesity Problem

State public health workers from across the state came together for three days of discussions in Anchorage this week on all facets of how Alaskans can be healthier.

One of the most significant health problems we’re facing as a state is obesity. Like much of the nation, the numbers of those who are overweight or obese are climbing rapidly here.

Brit Szymoniak is the survey manager for the section of women, children and family health within the state division of public health. She says more than 44 percent of Alaska women who had babies in 2010 were overweight or obese before becoming pregnant. And even more alarming is the percentage of obese young children.

Karol Fink is the program manager for the state’s obesity prevention and control program. She says obesity has doubled in Alaska in the past 20 years. And all that extra weight is expensive.

It’s the usual suspects, lack of adequate exercise, poor diet and too many sugary beverages. Fink says limiting the access of cheap soda in schools, at work places and fund raising events is one change that other states have found helpful in fighting the epidemic of obesity. She says nearly 80% of health costs are due to chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Knowing why people are getting fatter is a start, but Fink says it will take an all out effort to turn it around.

She says outreach to health care providers is another avenue to insure that just like educating smokers about the dangers of tobacco abuse, educating Alaskans about the dangers of being overweight becomes part of the consultation during visits to the doctor.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori