Oklahomans still struggle with health but doctors see positive trends

Saturday, February 18th 2006, 9:54 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Smoking, poor nutrition and lack of exercise are affecting the health of Oklahomans, but the state Board of Health said Friday it has identified positive trends that show Oklahomans are not becoming more unhealthy than the rest of the nation.

In its 10th annual State of the State's Health report card, the board said Oklahomans continue to be burdened by high rates of heart disease, stroke, cancer and chronic lung disease and has the eighth-highest rate of teen births in the nation.

The state spends $854 million a year in Medicaid and Medicare on obesity-related medical expenses and 8 percent of Oklahomans, more than the national average, have been told by their doctor that they have diabetes, according to the report.

A total of 3,800 fewer Oklahomans would die each year if the state's health trends matched the national average, said Dr. Gordon Deckert, a member of the Board of Health.

``Where in the world is the outrage? Where is the response?'' Deckert asked.

``The state of health in Oklahoma is not where we want it to be,'' Gov. Brad Henry said. But, he added, ``Oklahoma is turning the corner.''

Deckert said Oklahoma was the only state in the nation whose health deteriorated in the 1990s but that new health statistics indicate the problems are not deepening.

``At least we're not getting worse. It's flattened out,'' he said.

Henry said the emergence of tobacco cessation and prevention programs, The Fit Kids Coalition and other health initiatives have created an infrastructure for improving the health of Oklahomans.

``We will never be ahead of the curve until we start to produce healthier Oklahomans,'' said Dr. Terry Cline, secretary of health.

The report said an aging population, high poverty rate and an increase in minorities that may be more burdened with health problems are contributing to the state's poor health status. Oklahoma's Hispanic population grew 108 percent to 179,304 between 1990 and 2000.

``Oklahoma is known nationally as having an unhealthy work force,'' Deckert said.

More than 30,000 Oklahomans quit smoking following a tobacco tax increase approved by state voters that went into effect in January 2005, officials said. A state law that bans smoking in restaurants without a separate, self-ventilated smoking room goes into effect on March 1.

But more than $2 billion, or $600 a person, is spent each year for smoking-related direct medical care and lost productivity, the report said.

Smoking causes more death and disability than any other preventable risk factor and contributes to Oklahoma's high rates of heart disease, stroke, bladder cancer and emphysema.

``The smoke shops are killing the Native American population,'' Deckert said.

Deckert also said the state should do more to reduce the teen birth rate. Half of high school students are sexually active but only 30 percent use condoms in Oklahoma. The national average is 60 percent.

``Abstinence-only programs don't work. They're a waste of money,'' Deckert said.

The state also has a greater percentage of its population in poverty compared to the nation overall, limiting Oklahomans' access to health care. Seventy percent of Oklahoma's 77 counties are classified as poor compared with 30 percent of counties in other states, the report said.