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Voice of the Tundra


Moving Up, Getting Healthier...

The quality of life for Alaskans is getting better, though in an almost unnoticeable way. Last year we were 29 out of the 50 states in the union as the healthiest place to live. This year we moved up a notch to 28. While it is not good, it is not bad. We’re right there in the middle of the pack with Pennsylvania, Montana, New Mexico, Florida and South Dakota. In front of us are California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

If you look at it another way, despite all of our billions in revenues, billions in the permanent fund, tiny population, federal health care benefits for a large percentage of the population and no income tax, we’re not doing so good. As a whole, perhaps, Alaskans are miserably unhealthy!

If money matters, the connection between money in the bank and billions more to spend in federal funds and oil revenues is simple — we’re doing just as good as some of the poorest states which have many times our population.

Our three biggest challenges are binge drinking, low education attainment levels and a violent crime rate. On the upside, the United Health Foundation 2011 study found low levels of sedentary lifestyle, low levels of air pollution, low prevalence of low birth-weight, and declining smoking and diabetes rates. There are improvements in other grim statistics, though there are still 150,000 Alaskans who are obese and 40,000 adults have diabetes.

The private, non-profit United Health Foundation was created in 1999 and dedicated to improving health and health care in the country. Each year it rates all 50 states as it furthers its mission to expand access to health care and the well being of communities.

The purpose of the United Health rankings is to “stimulate action by individuals, elected officials, medical professionals, employers, educators and communities to improve health of the population of the United States.” Such rankings as this year’s 23rd annual report should encourage the governor and legislature to set legislative priorities, although findings such as these are often ignored and put on top of the heap of studies that already tell us that Alaska is a leader in suicides, alcoholism, violent crimes, low education attainment levels. Rural areas seem to be doing no better than when we were poor and had little or no funds to combat these grim social indicators.

Next year’s report is probably going to be another reminder that there’s much to do in Alaska.

Senator Daniel K. Inouye death closes an era...

The report that the second longest servicing U.S. Senator in history died on Tuesday closed an era that began in 1968 with the appointment of Ted Stevens. The two senators from the two detached states of Alaska and Hawaii were a powerful political duo as they worked together to further their states’ best interests with federal funds. Inouye, a Democrat, and Stevens, a Republican, were both veterans of World War II; Inouye served in Europe and Stevens in the Pacific. For many observers of the national political scene, it was obvious that the two senior senators were friends who held each other in high esteem. Though they are now both gone, our memories of them should be a constant reminder that politics and public service require sacrifices, service, respect and compromise. Taken together, their war time and federal service totaled over a hundred years and during that time they gave a lot for us to be thankful for.

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