Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink speaks at a press conference in Anchorage on March 23, 2020. (Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink speaks at a press conference in Anchorage on March 23, 2020. (Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)

Opinion: Free, flexible programs can help you get a Fresh Start

Many adults in Juneau and surrounding communities live with ongoing health concerns.

  • By Anne Zink
  • Wednesday, December 21, 2022 5:27pm
  • Opinion

So many of us want to feel better in some way.

I see that through my work as Alaska’s chief medical officer, but I also see it as an emergency room physician. Adults come into the emergency department for something that needs attention right away, like a heart attack or a broken leg. But as we talk and tests come back, we discover they also have ongoing health concerns. That could be type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight they’d like to lose, or cigarettes or vapes they want to stop using.

We’re all staring down the calendar right now: 2022 is on its way out and 2023 is in sight. Each new year brings the chance for a fresh start — a time to make changes in our lives. For many of us, New Year’s Day is when we commit to resolutions, goals or whatever we call our big plans for the coming year.

But here’s the challenge: We’re excited to set these goals, but it can be hard to keep them going after January.

This week, the Alaska Department of Health launches its Fresh Start campaign to connect Alaskans with free programs that can help participants make changes at any time in their lives to feel better. These programs at freshstart.alaska.gov offer support to Alaskans in meeting their health goals throughout the year, not just for a day or a month.

These programs aren’t new, but this year we’re making them easier to find. We’ve put these programs together on one new webpage at freshstart.alaska.gov. We’re doing all we can to ensure Alaskans know about these programs.

We’ve invested in offering these programs for free to Alaskans because they work. They’ve helped many Alaskans lose weight; move more; lower blood sugar or blood pressure; or stop smoking, chewing tobacco or vaping. Thousands of Alaskans have already joined. Our online program to lose weight, for example, has helped hundreds of Alaskans lose more than 4,500 pounds in total during the past three years.

We know many more Alaskans can feel better after joining Fresh Start programs. A recent analysis completed by our health department showed that 2 out of 3 Alaska adults live with at least one chronic disease or related behavior, like smoking. Many adults in Juneau and surrounding communities live with ongoing health concerns, according to data reported in the 2021 survey of adults statewide:

— 32% have been told by a health care provider that they have high blood pressure

— 7% have been told by a provider that they have diabetes

— 33% have obesity

The free Fresh Start programs can help Alaskans lower blood pressure, manage diabetes, and lose weight.

I’ve worked with patients who’ve taken health changes to heart and have turned their lives around. I no longer see them in the emergency department. Those stories are so inspiring — and improved health is what I hope for all Alaskans.

One reason these programs work is they’re flexible. You can tailor them so they work for you. We’ve heard from Alaskans who’ve joined online and phone programs because they preferred doing them from home, or wherever they were. Several Alaskans shared their stories of losing weight — sometimes 50 pounds in a year — as working parents, on the go as flight attendants, or as shift workers at a mine far from home.

These programs also work because they offer frequent support. Maybe you’ve tried to make health changes before, but you felt alone. Many of our programs match you with a coach for help and encouragement.

These programs work for Alaskans in big communities, as well as small ones. Many of our Fresh Start programs can be done online or by phone — wherever you are, whenever it works best for you.

If you’re ready for a new start in the new year, please visit Fresh Start and find a free health program that’s right for you or someone you know.

It’s not too late.

You’re not too old.

You don’t have to do it alone.

That’s Allen’s story. This year, he shared his experience with Fresh Start in a video. In his 70s, the North Pole resident decided he was ready for change. At age 74, Allen finished a Fresh Start program to lose weight and prevent diabetes. He joined the program offered by phone. Allen’s coach in Homer regularly called him to give support and encouragement. In one year, he lost almost 60 pounds and lowered his blood sugar to healthy levels.

Allen knows the Fresh Start programs can help more Alaskans.

In his video about the program, Allen said this: “If you’re having doubts, my advice would be this: It’s free. It’s not going to cost you a nickel. You’ve got somebody to work with you to encourage you on the way. You’re not doing this alone.”

“This was a step I took to do something, and it worked.”

I’m excited to share Fresh Start with Alaskans. Even if you don’t need these programs yourself, chances are you know someone who might benefit. Help us spread the word and let’s make 2023 a year of healthy change for all Alaskans.

Ready for change? Visit freshstart.alaska.gov to find the free program that’s right for you or someone you know.

• Dr. Anne Zink, M.D., is a board-certified emergency physician and Alaska’s chief medical officer. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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