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Report finds Oklahoma health in poor status


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A small Central American country has a higher life expectancy rate than Oklahoma, health officials say.

In the seventh-annual evaluation of Oklahoma's health care delivery system released Thursday, the state Board of Health found that too many Oklahomans still smoke, are overweight, don't exercise enough and don't have medical insurance.

Oklahoma also remains well behind national averages in the use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets, the ``2003 State of the State's Health'' found.

``We find the current state of the state's health unacceptable. Other places in the world, such as Costa Rica, have a higher life expectancy than Oklahoma,'' the health board found.

State Health Department data show the average life expectancy for Oklahoma men is 71.8 years and is 78.8 years for women.

The U.S. average life expectancy is 73.6 years for men and 79.4 years for women. In Costa Rica, the average life expectancy is 74 years for men and 79.5 for women.

The health report looks at the state's problems and progress, yet concludes ``our poor health status has serious consequences for Oklahoma and its people.''

The report found that 20.3 percent of Oklahoma's children live in households with incomes below the federal poverty level and 18.3 percent of the people in the state, 620,000, don't have health insurance.

In the United States as a whole, 14.6 percent of the population has no medical insurance.

``If Oklahoma's rate was the same as the United States, there would be 123,000 more Oklahomans insured than currently is the case,'' the report states.

Cutbacks in Medicaid and escalating numbers of Oklahomans without health insurance will mean ``Oklahoma will experience further deterioration in our health status over the next several years,'' the report states.

The report also concluded that more than ``50 percent of deaths in Oklahoma are due to preventable causes. Changing some of our poor habits and choosing healthful ones could make a huge impact on our overall health status,'' the report notes.

The 2002 Youth Tobacco Survey showed cigarette and tobacco use among Oklahoma high school students declining from 42.1 percent in 1999 to 31.9 percent in 2002. mortality and childhood immunizations.

Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch said state leaders ``can quickly enact sensible legislation ... to make us all healthier.''

Beitsch recommended a $1-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax, which is 23 cents a pack. The commissioner said he wants young smokers to be ``priced out of the tobacco marketplace'' and to ``reduce the number of our children who become addicted to nicotine.''
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