Policy changes alone won’t improve health outcomes

The Oklahoman Editorial Modified: February 22, 2010 at 4:07 am •  Published: February 22, 2010
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Journalist Michael Pollan, who’s written extensively on diet and nutrition, cuts to the chase in penning a prescription for a healthier America: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

State Health Commissioner Terry Cline also has a pithy prescription: "Eat better, move more and become tobacco free.”

In the swirl of vitriol surrounding health care reform, we must never forget that good health begins with individuals. No government program or no amount of government spending will change that.

Pollan’s point is that people should eat food with ingredients that don’t require a translator. They should eat less overall but consume more fruits and vegetables. Cline’s point is that Oklahomans eat poorly, don’t exercise enough and smoke too much.

These habits are major components — but by no means the only components — of the state’s abysmal rankings in national health care comparisons.

Unfortunately, poor health outcomes are exploited for political gain. This happened recently when a Tulsa state senator blamed government policy and the Republican majority in the Legislature for poor outcomes.

But no policy and no amount of spending can force Oklahomans to eat vegetables other than french fries and fried, battered okra. Or to exercise frequently. Or to give up cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

In 2008, the Legislature directed creation of an Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan. The state Board of Health, to which Cline reports, released the plan in December.


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