For the first time in five years, Oklahoma found itself ranked above the bottom five states for worst health in America.
Oklahoma ranked No. 43 in overall health in a national report released in December, the highest ranking the state has received in eight years.
Gov. Mary Fallin said when the report was released that the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings report shows Oklahoma’s efforts to increase access to health care, reduce infant mortality and promote healthy living in schools and workplaces are working.
“Health is such an important issue in Oklahoma because it affects both our quality of life and our economy,” Fallin said.
“For families, poor health can mean personal tragedy and medical bills that break the bank. For businesses, it means lower workforce productivity. That’s why it’s so important to continue this forward momentum.”
The United Health Foundation report ranks states on residents’ health and health access and also on environmental issues and health policies.
Oklahoma’s overall rank has increased gradually over the past four years. In 2011, Oklahoma ranked No. 46.
Over the past 23 years, Oklahoma has seen its ranking range from No. 32 in the early 1990s to No. 49 in 2007 and 2009.
This year, the state ranked higher than Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Oklahoma still faces its challenges, with a high prevalence of smoking, sedentary lifestyles, obesity and diabetes, a limited availability of primary care physicians and a high rate of cardiovascular deaths, according to the report.
The state received its worst ranking in the number of primary care physicians per 100,000 people, ranking No. 49 in the nation. The state received its best ranking in the percentage of adults who indulge in binge drinking, coming in at No. 12 in the nation.
The state saw a drop in the number of children living in poverty, according to the report.
Last year, one in four children, or 25 percent, lived in poverty. This year, it was about 21 percent.
In the past 10 years, the infant mortality rate has decreased from 8.5 to 7.5 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to the report.
However, the infant mortality rate among black children remains high — about 16 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Oklahoma’s “Every Week Counts” program was specifically mentioned in the United Health Foundation’s report as a successful attempt to decrease premature births.
The initiative is a collaborative effort among the state Health Department and several community partners to reduce nonmedically indicated cesarean sections and inductions before 39 weeks of pregnancy.
This effort has led to a 66 percent decrease in early elective births in Oklahoma, according to the state Health Department.
State Health Commissioner Terry Cline said the Health Department has focused many of its initiatives on community involvement.
“As Oklahomans, we are a very determined people, so when we put our minds to do something, I have great confidence that we can see that progress,” Cline said. “That is the point we are at now.”