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Alaska focusing on kids to combat obesity

By Shannon Ballard Photojournalist: Nick Swann - 10:31 PM June 5, 2014

Obesity is one of the most complex and costly health concerns facing Alaskans and according to a new study by the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, the problem is getting worse.

Obesity rates among Alaska adults are on the rise, but the upward trend seems to have leveled off in kids.

Still, that’s where the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program is putting its focus, working to keep overweight children from becoming obese adults.

Arianna Mestas, 3, is a master at keeping her mother moving.

Together they try to do something active every day, because Rebecca Mestas knows it’s harder to make healthy decisions when you haven’t for years.

“That’s what I’m hoping, that if we get started young then she won’t have to worry about losing weight like I do as an adult,” Mestas said. “It’s a lot easier to get those habits down now then it will be in the future.”

Kids could be the future of the 49th state’s growing obesity rate, according to Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program.

One third of Alaska kids are overweight or obese.

“When kids are obese the chances of them becoming not obese adults is low. Eighty percent of them are going to remain obese into adulthood,” said Karol Fink, program manager for the Obesity Prevention and Control Program.

A new state report shows obesity-related medical bills total a half billion dollars in spending every year.

But there is some good news.

“What the report shows is, yes, an investment in childhood obesity prevention makes a difference and will result in medical care costs savings down the line,” Fink said.

That means the state may soon start pumping even more money into efforts encouraging kids to eat healthy and stay active, so that Arianna and others will learn early on in life that they don’t have to be part of the nation’s upward obesity trend.

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