Oklahoma has earned an "F” for fat. A new report ranks Oklahoma the sixth heftiest state because of its 30.6 percent obesity rate. High diabetes rates, physical inactivity and hypertension played a major role in putting Oklahoma in the bad category, according to "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010.” The study was conducted by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report suggests most Oklahomans think the only good veggie is a fried veggie. Only 9 percent get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables that help keep waistlines and health problems in check. "We have fallen behind. And literally it will be killing our population,” state Health Commissioner Terry Cline said. The statistics are gruesome, especially considering Oklahoma's No. 1 ranking in cardiovascular disease. "We know that if we were at the national average we would have 5,320 fewer deaths every single year,” Cline said. Preventable illnesses tied to obesity are unnecessarily killing people, he said. The report shows racial differences, too. A higher percentage of black Oklahomans (37.1 percent) are obese, followed by Latinos (30.4 percent) and whites (29.1 percent), according to the report released Tuesday. "The link between poverty, race and obesity is undeniable,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, advisory board chairwoman of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity. About 35 percent of Americans earning $15,000 or less yearly are obese, the report shows. That compares with just more than 24 percent obesity among adults earning $50,000 or more.
Working toward No. 1Obesity in Oklahoma is like a locomotive, said Rhonda Dennis, administrative director for Pushmataha, Bryan, McCurtain and Choctaw county health departments. "When a train is headed in one direction at full speed, it takes a while to slow it down and then a while to turn it back around,” she said. "I think that's what has happened with obesity in our community and our nation.” Obesity has roared forward since 1991, when no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. Fifteen percent was average obesity rate in 1980. Now, two-thirds of states exceed that and Oklahoma is one of eight states with a rate of 30 or more. The "F as in Fat” report follows another recent report, "America's Fitness Index,” which ranks Oklahoma City dead last in physical fitness. "I'm shocked that we're number six,” Dennis said. Oklahoma frequently rates among the worst when it comes to weight, bad habits and general health. Oklahoma will be No. 1 in obesity in the next couple of decades if something doesn't change, Cline said.
Stepping aheadA good place to begin reversing the trend is with children, experts say. Currently, more than 12 million children and adolescents in the United States are considered obese. A 2007 national survey shows 16.4 percent of Oklahoma children ages 10 to 17 were obese, with the state ranking 17 out of the 50 states and District of Columbia for childhood obesity. Obesity sounds fairly innocuous but it is the precursor to juvenile diabetes, another pending epidemic that can rob diabetes patients of their eyesight and limbs, Cline said. "That means they may have 40 years of a chronic disease that needs to be managed appropriately. And that means they'll have to make lifestyle changes,” he said. Dennis said there is hope. In Hugo public school district, a poor, diverse district in southeastern Oklahoma, officials have agreed to work over the next three years to get children moving more and to place healthful foods in front of them. They're gradually removing the deep fat fryers, replacing junk food with fruit and yogurt in vending machines, and parking school buses farther away so children will have to walk more to catch a ride. The report recommended communities encourage grocers to build in underserved communities and that residents push for more safe parks. "I truly believe if we build it, communities will use it,” Dennis said. Cline said the state can make policy changes to address adult and childhood obesity but 30 to 40 percent of a person's health is influenced by individual behavior. "Eat better, move more, be tobacco-free,” Cline said. "Those are three inexpensive things people can do today.”