Governor Launches Initiative To Improve Health

Friday, April 6th 2007, 2:34 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Citing Oklahoma's poor health rankings, state health officials launched a statewide fitness program Friday to encourage Oklahomans to eat better, move more and stop smoking.

The goal of the Strong and Healthy Oklahoma program is to change personal behavior and improve national health rankings in which Oklahoma comes in 43rd from the top in the prevalence of diabetes, 44th in the frequency of exercise, 46th in tobacco use and last in the frequency of death due to heart disease, said Dr. Mike Crutcher, state commissioner of health.

"We're encouraging some level of improvement," Crutcher said. "We're not saying you have to be perfect."

The launch of the program was particularly meaningful for Wyndham Kidd Jr., president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma who conceded during a news conference where the initiative was announced that he is overweight.

"We want to be a wellness company," Kidd said. He said treating poor health is an important topic in his industry and that the vast majority of type 2 diabetes, adult-onset diabetes that is commonly associated with obesity, are caused by personal lifestyle decisions.

Kidd said "deep-rooted personal change" is required to address the causes of poor health and reverse the trend.

The plan includes a pocket-sized guidebook and Web site that were developed to address health problems associated with obesity, lack of exercise and tobacco use.

Bruce DeMuth, chief of staff of Career Tech, said employers can encourage workers to practice better health habits, including replacing candy bars with apples and other fruit in vending machines, installing walking tracks and giving employees recreation periods.

Fit workers take less days off, are more productive and have higher morale and lower health care costs, DeMuth said.

Anne Roberts, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, said the state formed the Fit Kids Coalition about four years ago to deal with the growing frequency of obesity among Oklahoma school children.

Since then the coalition has helped pass legislation to limit junk food in school vending machines and require 60 minutes of physical education per week in elementary schools, Roberts said.

The coalition is promoting plans to perform fitness testing in schools and reduce sedentary activities, like watching TV.