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Alaska losing race toward fattest US state, but saving health care dough

Craig Medred

Alaskans are going to have to eat more if they hope to keep up with the fat people in other states. With the Trust for America's Health on Tuesday projecting 39 states could have obesity rates above 50 percent by 2030, Alaskans are looking like foodie slackers. The Trust projects only 45.6 percent of Alaskans will have joined the Fat Nation by that year. That could leave Alaska lagging far behind the 13 states -- primarily in the South -- where adult obesity rates are expected to top 60 percent.

Deep-fat-fried bacon? Alaskans could see that and raise it some deep-fat-fried blubber, but apparently they're not?

Maybe the state's Obesity Prevention and Control Program is gaining some traction, or maybe Alaska is blessed with some good role models in the Palins of Wasilla. Say what you will about the new politics or old intellect of former Gov. Sarah -- and many have -- there is no denying the avid runner is a shining example that Alaskans don't need to grow fat as they grow older. And much the same can be said for former First Dude and Iron Dog snowmachine race champ Todd.

The state Obesity Program, former Gov. Palin, and the Trust for America's Health are, of course, anti-fat. All would like to see states buck the nation's ever fattening trend. The Trust, in cooperation with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on Tuesday released its "F as in Fat" report warning that if things continue the way they've been going for years now Mississippi could by 2030 redefine what it means to be human. Two out three people in that state could by that year be officially obese, according to the report, clearly making "fat" the new "normal" in The Magnolia State.

The reports warns the costs of this are staggering -- a projected $48 to $66 billion in increased expenses for treating obesity-related diseases and an economic productivity loss of between $390 and $580 billion. As things stand now, the report notes, the country is spending $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year on obesity-related medical costs.

All of this at time when the country is in a bitter battle over public health care and its costs. Fat is a non-partisan part of that debate. It is hugely expensive under Obamacare or private health care. And, ironically, it actually presents a situation wherein individual Americans could actually do a lot to lower national health care costs by doing as little as eating less and exercising more.

The latest study concludes:

If states could reduce the average body mass index (BMI) of residents by just 5 percent by 2030, every state could help thousands or millions of people avoid obesity-related diseases, while saving billions of dollars in health care costs. For a six-foot-tall person weighing 200 pounds, a 5 percent reduction in BMI would be the equivalent of losing roughly 10 pounds. If BMIs were lowered, the number of Americans who could be spared from developing major obesity-related diseases could range from:

-- Type 2 diabetes: 14,389 in Alaska to 796,430 in California;
-- Coronary heart disease and stroke: 11,889 in Alaska to 656,970 in California;
-- Hypertension: 10,826 in Alaska to 698,431 in California;
Arthritis: 6,858 in Wyoming to 387,850 in California; and
-- Obesity-related cancer: 809 in Alaska to 52,769 in California.

Oh, but Americans do love to eat. Exercise is, well, so sweaty. And the couch and the TV are so inviting.