NORMAN — Oklahoma health department employees have a seven-word tag line at the end of their e-mails that could be taken as a prescription for better health: It says, simply, “Eat Better, Move More, Be Tobacco Free!”
Maybe that motto and some healthy living initiatives are starting to get through to Oklahomans. The state this week improved three notches on the United Health Foundation’s national rankings. We’re now No. 43, compared to No. 46 in 2011.
Our health ranking has worsened significantly in the past two decades. We ranked No. 32 in the early 1990s. In 2009, Oklahoma was No. 49, with Mississippi ranked 50th. This year, Mississippi and Louisiana tied for 49th and 50th place.
By comparison this year, we’re ranked ahead of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky. Any improvement is good news for a state that battles high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, smoking and a low number of primary care physicians.
Our relatively poor health impacts our schools, workplaces and health care providers. The challenges remain: A relatively high smoking rate, sedentary lifestyles, diabetes and obesity. The state has made some policy changes relative to smoking in public places, in restaurants and on college campuses. School changes have also resulted in more daily exercise and fewer junk foods and sugary drinks in vending machines.
Oklahomans also rank poorly in the percentage of its population covered by health insurance. The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates 18.7 percent of the state’s population is without health insurance coverage. Nationwide, the number of Americans lacking health insurance is about 15 percent.