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FOR RELEASE: January 24, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Oklahoma Ranks Low in Women’s Health

The Women’s Health Report Card, released by the National Women’s Law Center, indicates a slight improvement in Oklahoma’s women’s health scores from an “F” (failing) in 2000, to “U” (unsatisfactory) in 2001. Oklahoma is ranked 42nd in the nation in women’s health, improving from a 44th place finish in 2000, according to officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).

The 2001 Report Card compares and assesses women's health nationally and in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the areas of access to health care, addressing wellness and prevention, key health conditions, and living in a healthy community.

Oklahoma women improved in the areas of increased leisure time activity, decreased breast cancer rates, and decreased maternal mortality rates, defined as the death of a woman within a year of giving birth. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the improvement, but OSDH officials speculate that increased awareness of the importance of early screening for breast cancer and advances in medical care for pregnant women led to improvements in these areas.

Although encouraged by the improvement, OSDH Deputy Commissioner for Family Health Services Dr. Edd Rhoades said, “Oklahoma is still ranked near the bottom in many areas, indicating that we have a long way to go in improving the health of women in Oklahoma.” Rhoades said women in Oklahoma continue to experience high rates of death by heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, as well as high rates of infant mortality and late entry into prenatal care.

In 2001, Oklahoma women had an age-adjusted death rate from heart disease of 114/100,000 women level with 2000 rates. Age-adjusted death rates from stroke were 27.4/100,000 women, worsening from 24.1/100,000 in 2000. “Prevention of heart disease and stroke by exercising, healthy eating habits, consistent stress management, and cessation of smoking will significantly improve the health of women in Oklahoma and decrease health care costs,” Rhoades said. “We must continue to develop strategies that assist women in adopting healthy lifestyle choices and increasing their awareness of the importance of good nutrition, exercise and stress management.”

Women who eat five or more servings of vegetables per day, limit their fat intake, exercise at least three times per week, and refrain from smoking, can lower their risk of untimely death from heart disease and stroke. In addition to the health benefits from nutrition and exercise, most women experience increased energy levels, and an improved sense of well-being.

Stress management is another important component of improved health. Women can experience higher stress levels through competing demands of work, family, and relationships. Learning to set aside specific time to do relaxation exercises, exercise, and/or engage in enjoyable activities, such as gardening or reading, can lower blood pressure and heart rates. Consistently using stress management techniques can help women function better, improve memory, and to enjoy life more. There is no single stress management technique that will work well for all women.

It is important that women receive support from family and friends when beginning to make nutritional, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Involvement of family members in these new habits will not only help women to stay the course, but will ensure that other family members are healthier.

“Research has shown that women are the primary consumers of health care and health information for their families. An improvement in the health of Oklahoma’s women will lead to the improved health of all Oklahomans,” Rhoades said.


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