The Woodward News

Local News

December 13, 2012

Oklahoma's health ranking improves

Woodward, Okla. — According to the latest America's Health Rankings conducted by the United Health Foundation, Oklahoma has gone up in ranking to 43rd healthiest state in 2012.

In the past several years the state’s health ranking has typically held between 46th and 49, so the 2012 ranking marks a step forward.

Dr. Terry Cline, secretary of health and human services and commissioner of health for Oklahoma, said "This is a big increase and its a great one to see.  Forty-three is a long way from where we want to be but we also have to look at where we are compared to where we were a year ago. We have a number of efforts across the state working with communities and we're starting to see some of those benefits."

Cline said one area the state has seen improvement in is the infant mortality rate.

"We are working to improve infant mortality rate, thats a significant factor," he said. "That rate is measured by the number of babies who don't reach their first birthday. This is a big concern because it means babies born in Oklahoma are less likely to survive than in other states.

"One example of how we're improving that rate is voluntary cooperation through hospitals who won't allow unnecessary early inductions or caesarean sections. We've seen a decrease by 57 percent over the last year of early births."

Cline said a large contributing factor to infant mortalities was low birth weight, and by having women to go full term when possible, the state has been able to improve that problem.

Another factor contributing to the improvement in health of Oklahoma children is an increase in the rate of immunizations.

"Over 90 percent of Oklahoma children are up to date on vaccinations," said Cline. "We have a very low infectious disease rate in the state."

Cline went on to say the state's healthy economy could also be contributing to the health of children.

"We've had fewer kids living in poverty due to the state's strong economy," said Cline.

While improvements have been made, there is much more work to do.

"As a state, we've had the single largest increase in obesity the last 10 years," Cline said.  "We're currently at a 30 percent obesity rate, but we've seen that trend begin to level off. The US obesity trend rate is still going up slightly, but we've started to close that gap."

This obesity epidemic is not surprising, as Cline went on to explain that Oklahoma is also ranked 45th in sedentary lifestyle.

"Many of these problems are tied in to one another," Cline said.

Also exacerbated by the state's obesity problem is the diabetes rate.

"Our diabetes rate is significantly higher than the national average. Right now 11.1 percent of the state is suffering from diabetes, thats the 43rd highest diabetes rate in the country," Cline said.

Tobacco is an additional health challenge.

"Nearly one out of every four Oklahomans smoke, which means 25% of Oklahomans are involved in number one preventable cause of death in the state," Cline said.  "Our cardiovascular disease death ranking is 48th in the nation, and thats primarily a result of tobacco use.

"Tobacco claims about 6000 victims in the state of Oklahoma a year. I'm from Ardmore, and its population is about 25,000, so if those deaths were localized to that city, it'd wipe out the whole town out in under 5 years. Thats a lot of people for a state our size. We have to bring those rates down."

While the health of Oklahoma has improved, the extent to which it has improved is somewhat fuzzy, as new data methodology implemented by the United Health Foundation for the 2012 report has resulted in Oklahoma's score from 2011 being retroactively changed from 48th in the nation to 46th.

"They now including cell phones in the survey conducted, which changes up the demographics they're reaching and the answers they're receiving," Cline pointed out.

The state official said adding cell phones to the survey gives the foundation a chance to reach a part of the population they were unable to before. Cline said the results of the change are a higher representation of the Hispanic population as well as lower income households.

 "A lot of families without landlines are struggling financially. They're not hooked up to cable or a phone line, they just have a cell phone," Cline said.

Cline seemingly believes the inclusion of cell phones provides a fairer representation of Oklahoma's health situation.

"If your missing out on specific demographics then you're misrepresenting a population," said Cline.

But just what can Oklahomans do to improve their health?

"Theres a website,, that has a bunch of suggestions for everyone from families to businesses or communities," Cline said. "It's full of nice, concrete things you can start doing immediately to improve your health."

Cline issued a challenge to communities, organizations, and businesses across the state to make an effort to improve the health of the state's residents.

"If communities want to invest in their future as well as the future of their businesses, citizens, and students they should all be focused on the improving their health. Its an area where we can really make a difference," he said.

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