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FOR RELEASE: February 3, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Board of Health Issues Challenge to Oklahoma – "Our future is tied to what we do now!"

The State Board of Health released its fourth annual The State of the State's Health report today which offered a sobering health report card as well as a challenge to Oklahoma: our children deserve a healthier future than what we are providing for them now.

A five-person panel representing the state public health and medical communities highlighted the results of the Board of Health's Year 2000 report and suggested several solutions to a number of the state's health problems during a briefing this morning at the State Capitol.

Health Status Assessment

Among the report's findings:

  • Oklahomans are dying from the five leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, injuries, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) at a rate more than 11 percent higher than the rest of the nation. Tobacco use is the most significant risk factor for all of these except injuries.
  • Oklahoma's smoking rate continues to be higher than the national average. Oklahomans consume 28.7 percent more packs of cigarettes than the national average. A 1999 survey of Oklahoma's youth found that 42 percent of high school students and 21 percent of middle school students use some form of tobacco.
  • Overweight and lack of exercise combine to put many Oklahomans at serious risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis.
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury death in Oklahoma. In 1997, Oklahoma's rate for lack of seat belt use was 36.9 percent compared to the national rate of 30.8 percent.
  • Fifty percent of Oklahoma households have firearms. Easy access to firearms may explain, in part, Oklahoma's gun-related homicides and suicides.
  • Three-quarters of births to Oklahoma teens are unintended. The chances that children who are born to teen mothers will live in poverty are three times greater than for mothers who delay childbearing until after the age of 20.
  • There are significant disparities in health status among Oklahoma counties. These differences are evident geographically, as well as among race and gender groups.

Contributing Factors

The report identifies several underlying reasons that contribute to Oklahoma's overall poor health status, including the following:

  • Individual behavioral risk factors – especially nicotine addiction.
  • Disparities in personal income – more than 32 percent of Oklahoma's children under the age of 5 live in poverty.
  • Lack of access to health care – more than 500,000 Oklahomans do not have health insurance coverage.
  • Inadequate community health resources – the potential for rural hospital closures and lack of medical care threatens local communities.


Since tobacco use is the one behavioral risk factor that has the most negative impact on the health of Oklahomans, the report recommends the immediate implementation of a statewide, comprehensive, evidence-based tobacco prevention and reduction program using funds from the tobacco settlement applied at the community level by community partners.

The report suggests that physicians can have a powerful impact on preventing disease by stressing prevention in their clinical practices. The Physicians' Campaign for a Healthier Oklahoma, sponsored by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, emphasizes clinical prevention practices, healthy message reminders for patients, and physician involvement in community prevention initiatives.

The report also calls upon individuals to accept responsibility for making lifestyle choices conducive to good health, such as not smoking, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy diet.

The report recommends the immediate implementation of a statewide initiative to reduce unwanted and unintended pregnancies, especially among teens.

Finally, the report suggests a restructuring of public health in Oklahoma through community-based decision making. One such process, the Oklahoma Turning Point Initiative, has implemented this idea in Texas, Tulsa and Cherokee counties. These counties are working to actively involve the participation of physicians, public health professionals, business leaders, government employees, and the faith community in decisions about public health activities.

Participating in today's presentation were Dr. Jay A. Gregory, President, Oklahoma State Board of Health; Dr. Gordon H. Deckert, Board of Health member and Spokesperson for the Physicians' Campaign for a Healthier Oklahoma; Dr. Jerry R. Nida, State Health Commissioner; Dr. Boyd O. Whitlock, President of the Oklahoma State Medical Association; and Dr. Robert J. Weedn, President-Elect of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and Chair of the Physicians' Campaign for a Healthier Oklahoma.

The State of the State's Health report can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.health.state.ok.us/board/state/index.html.


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