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Play Every Day Blog > Posts > Anchorage reduced childhood obesity rates, but more work is needed to improve health
 

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March 22
Anchorage reduced childhood obesity rates, but more work is needed to improve health

Press conference at elementary schoolA national public health foundation has recognized Anchorage as one of four communities nationwide that reduced its childhood obesity rates. Obesity rates among Anchorage School District elementary and middle school students declined by 2.2% between the 2003–04 and 2010–11 school years, due to coordinated efforts among the school district, the Municipality of Anchorage, and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).

On March 22, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released the results of the Childhood Obesity Declines project from the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research. The project studied four U.S. communities — Anchorage, Alaska; New York City; Granville County, N.C.; and Philadelphia, Pa. — to better understand the strategies these communities used to reduce the significant health issue of childhood obesity.
The report discusses a number of strategies and collaborations that likely contributed to the childhood obesity decline seen in Anchorage between the 2003-04 and 2012-11 school years. Strategies completed through partnership by the Municipality of Anchorage, the Anchorage School District and DHSS had a positive effect on obesity rates.
At the Anchorage School District, the wellness team made the following changes: 
  • increased weekly physical education and health instruction time for elementary students;
  • no longer sold sodas during school hours;
  • improved school lunches to meet stricter health standards;
  • expanded the national school lunch program to high schools;
  • increased the number of students participating in the Healthy Futures Challenge — the free, school-based physical activity challenge run by Healthy Futures, an Alaska nonprofit organization; and
  • adopted a comprehensive School District Wellness Policy that improved the foods available in vending machines, school stores and classrooms.
At the same time, the Municipality of Anchorage’s Task Force on Obesity and Health increased public awareness of the health consequences of childhood obesity; improved childcare licensing requirements around physical activity and nutrition; encouraged a variety of agencies to engage in improving the health of Anchorage residents; and guided development and adoption of the Anchorage Pedestrian and Bike Plans.
 “Childhood obesity is a serious health concern in Alaska, and about 1 out of 3 children in this state is overweight or obese,” said Karol Fink, the DHSS Obesity Prevention and Control Program manager. “This report shows that a broad set of policies applied by a large group of partners over a period of time can affect health behaviors and reduce childhood obesity rates.”
While community partners are pleased obesity rates among Anchorage students have not increased since 2011, the collective efforts must continue to further decrease obesity rates. Many children remain at increased risk for weight-related health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
At a public event at an Anchorage elementary school, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff, and Dr. Jay Butler, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for the state of Alaska, committed to continue working collaboratively to address childhood obesity in Anchorage.