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)

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