Report: Most Alaska adults have conditions that increase risk for serious illness from COVID-19

Obesity, smoking and diabetes among common health issues, according to health officials.

This chart shows the prevalence of underlying health conditions among 8,500 surveyed adults in Alaska. (Courtesy Image / DHSS)

This chart shows the prevalence of underlying health conditions among 8,500 surveyed adults in Alaska. (Courtesy Image / DHSS)

Two-thirds of Alaskans have at least one underlying health condition that increases the odds of COVID-19 causing serious illness, according to analysis recently shared by the state’s health department.

About 67% of Alaskans have at least one underlying condition — smoking, obesity, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, history of heart disease or a heart attack or chronic kidney disease — that have been shown to increase risk of hospitalization or death due to COVID-19, according to a report shared by Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Almost one in four Alaskans have two or more such conditions, according to the report, and if age is considered an underlying condition, 71% of adult Alaskans are at increased risk for serious illness due to COVID-19, according to DHSS, which notes that estimate is “likely an undercount.”

“What we’re experiencing right now is the intersection between infectious diseases like the COVID-19 virus and chronic diseases and behaviors like obesity, diabetes and smoking,” said Karol Fink, manager of Alaska’s Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion section in the report. “Living with an ongoing disease can make it harder for your body to fight viruses like COVID-19.”

The data is based on reports from 8,500 randomly selected adult Alaskans who participated in the annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System between 2016 and 2018, according to DHSS. The BRFSS is a telephone survey that asks Alaskans about their health and behaviors that can impact health. The reports were analyzed by epidemiologists within the state Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Being a smoker — 42% — and obesity — 32% —were the two most common underlying factors, according to the report. Additionally, there is some evidence that suggests other common conditions such as high blood pressure and asthma can increase chances of serious COVID-19 illness, according to the report. Among Alaska adults, 31% have high blood pressure and 9% have asthma, according to BRFSS data cited in the report.

The new report comes on the heels of a concerted push by state officials to convince Alaskans to wear masks and practice social distancing to prevent spread of COVID-19.

Additionally, the report highlighted actions Alaskans can take in their daily lives to improve overall health. Actions included quitting smoking, being active every day, eating healthy foods, limiting consumption of sugary drinks, getting routine cancer screenings and regularly checking both blood pressure and blood sugar.

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

Ben Hohesntatt / Juneau Empire File
This September photo shows a sign in downtown Juneau encouraging people to get tested for COVID-19. Recent analysis shared by Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shows the majority of Alaskans have at least one underlying health condition that increases risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
This September photo shows a sign in downtown Juneau encouraging people to get tested for COVID-19. Recent analysis shared by Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shows the majority of Alaskans have at least one underlying health condition that increases risk of serious illness from COVID-19. (Ben Hohesntatt / Juneau Empire File)

Ben Hohesntatt / Juneau Empire File This September photo shows a sign in downtown Juneau encouraging people to get tested for COVID-19. Recent analysis shared by Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shows the majority of Alaskans have at least one underlying health condition that increases risk of serious illness from COVID-19. This September photo shows a sign in downtown Juneau encouraging people to get tested for COVID-19. Recent analysis shared by Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shows the majority of Alaskans have at least one underlying health condition that increases risk of serious illness from COVID-19. (Ben Hohesntatt / Juneau Empire File)

More in News

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
503 new cases; borough positivity rate hits 14.65%

Affected peninsula communities include Kenai, Other North, Soldotna and Seward

In this March 18, 2020 file photo, Thomas Waerner, of Norway, celebrates his win in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Nome, Alaska. The world’s most famous sled dog race will go forward in 2021 officials are preparing for every potential contingency now for what the coronavirus and the world might look like in March when the Iditarod starts. It’s not the mushers that worry Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach; they’re used to social distancing along the 1,000 mile trail. The headaches start with what to do with hundreds of volunteers needed to run the race, some scattered in villages along the trail between Anchorage and Nome, to protect them and the village populations. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP, File)
Virus restrictions lead Norwegian champ to drop Iditarod

“I cannot find a way to get the dogs to Alaska.”

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, addresses reporters during a Wendesday, March 25, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
First COVID vaccines could arrive in Alaska next month

Pfizer announced their COVID-19 vaccine candidate earlier this month, with Moderna not long after

File
DHSS encourages COVID-positive Alaskans to do their own contact tracing

In a Monday release, DHSS said that surging COVID-19 cases are creating a data backlog

Public input sought on proposed Skilak-area boat launch changes

The public scoping period will last from Dec. 8, 2020 to Jan. 8, 2021

Risk levels
Schools status: Nov. 23

34 KPBSD schools continue to operate 100% remotely through at least Nov. 25

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, addresses reporters during a Wendesday, March 25, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
State COVID officials brief Soldotna City Council in work session

The council was joined by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and State Testing Coordinator Dr. Coleman Cutchins

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
State reports more than 4,000 cases this week, 357 on peninsula

The state reported 462 new COVID-19 cases on Friday

Seward junior Lydia Jacoby swims in August 2019 at the Speedo Junior National Championships in Stanford, California. (Photo by Jack Spitser)
Improving through challenging times

Seward junior swimmer Jacoby wins national title at U.S. Open

Most Read