Anchorage reduces childhood obesity rates, but more work is needed to improve health


March 22, 2016




Karol Fink, DHSS, Obesity Prevention & Control Program Manager: (907) 269-3457,

Rebecca Luczycki, DHSS Public Information: (907) 269-3495,

Heidi Embley, ASD Chief Communications Officer: (907) 742-4158,

Myer Hutchinson, MOA Communications Director: (907) 343-7100,


ANCHORAGE — A national public health foundation recognized Anchorage today 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).


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) today 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, NC; and Philadelphia, PA — to better understand the strategies these communities used to reduce childhood obesity.


In the years following the study, obesity rates among Anchorage students have not increased since 2011, however community partners agree the collective efforts must continue to further decrease obesity rates. Many Anchorage children remain at increased risk for weight-related health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.


“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.”


The report highlights a number of strategies and collaborations that likely contributed to the decline in childhood obesity seen in Anchorage between 2003-04 and 2010-11.


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 put several efforts in place, including:

  • 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.


“This report highlights that when we work together, we get things done.  We must combine our efforts to continue reducing childhood obesity,” stated Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.


Today, the effort to reduce childhood obesity in Anchorage continues in several ways:

  • The DHSS Healthy Alaskans 2020 initiative identified childhood obesity prevention as a top health priority for the state;
  • DHSS and the Anchorage School District continue their partnership with the Healthy Futures Challenge to empower Alaska's young children to build the habit of daily physical activity for the best health, with almost 60 ASD schools (199 statewide) signing on for the free school-based physical activity challenge for Spring 2016;
  • DHSS and the Anchorage School District are working together to educate students, teachers and parents about the importance of 60 minutes a day of physical activity and choosing water or milk instead of sugary drinks; providing professional development opportunities on how to improve nutrition and physical activity levels in schools; and supporting elementary school health teachers in talking to students about the health risks linked to sugary drinks.
  • Anchorage Assembly Chair Dick Traini and Vice-Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson were successful in implementing First Lady Michele Obama’s Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties initiative in February 2014. This effort led to Anchorage being invited to join the First Lady at a White House Celebratory event, recognizing cities who reached a gold medal in all five of the Let’s Move! Goals. Currently, Anchorage has been accepted in the Let’s Move! All-Stars Strategies Program through its commitment to reach strategic goals in four categories.


“The Anchorage School District is dedicated to reducing childhood obesity, and we look forward to continued collaboration with the state, the municipality and other groups in Anchorage that share our commitment to the health of Anchorage children,” said ASD Superintendent Ed Graff.


Please join us for the official release of this report:



Discussion of the RWJF report results:

Signs of Progress in Childhood Obesity Declines               



Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 11:00 a.m.



Scenic Park Elementary School

(opportunity for b-roll of ASD students in health class and in PE class)



Mayor Ethan Berkowitz

Ed Graff, Anchorage School District Superintendent

Melanie Sutton, ASD Health and Physical Education Coordinator

Dr. Jay Butler, DHSS Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health

Karol Fink, DHSS Obesity Prevention and Control Program Manager

Dick Traini and Elvi Gray-Jackson, Chair and Vice Chair of Anchorage Assembly


Anchorage School District website accessibility and nondiscrimination notice. The Anchorage School District is an equal opportunity provider.