A few marker boards covered in blue and red writing decorate one of the walls of Aaron O’Neal’s gym.
Look a little closer and you will notice the boards are full of goals.
One gym member wants to lift 225 pounds above his head in an exercise move called a snatch. Another guy wants to do 10 pullups without help.
As Oklahoma leaders make the push for more people to get active and get healthy, O’Neal, owner of CrossFit 405, sees people of all ages coming through his gym’s garage door.
“I have people that have never done anything before, literally coming off the couch into a fitness program, and then I have people who were Division I athletes, that basically were in competitive sports in some fashion all the way through college — and everything in between that,” O’Neal said.
A healthier city
Five years ago, Oklahoma City was ranked No. 8 on Men’s Fitness magazine’s fattest cities list. But when the magazine’s new rankings came out, Oklahoma City saw a turnaround, ranking No. 23 on the fittest city’s list.
O’Neal said rankings like that help raise awareness about what’s healthy and what’s not.
“I think that probably motivates people to try to change something about their lives, whether it’s eating or starting to work out or becoming more active,” he said.
The “fattest cities” ranking definitely motivated Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
“And I went through some personality responsibility issues with my own weight, and I determined that I was an example of Oklahoma City’s problem and determined that I was going to lose some weight,” Cornett said.
In 2008, Cornett created the “This City is Going On A Diet” program, a challenge to the residents of Oklahoma City to lose one million pounds, a goal that was attained in January.
Since the “fattest” ranking, city leaders have taken the initiative to improve the city’s health by building bike lanes, taking fried foods out of school lunches and building jogging and biking trails, among other things.
Targeting the issues
There’s a lot more to health than obesity, though, and still today, far too many people smoke and don’t have access to a more nutritional diet, Cornett said.
“We’re not a community even today making the best choices for our health, and I think it takes a while to turn the ship and move the culture of our city,” Cornett said. “I think we’re in a cultural shift to become a city that prioritizes its health more.”
Likewise, at CrossFit 405, the focus is on more than just building muscle and losing weight.
“With every good program, with every smart trainer, it doesn’t matter what you do in the gym so much as what you feed yourself,” O’Neal said. “The nutrition is sort of the base of the pyramid of stuff that CrossFit as a program tries to emphasize.”
Many of the gym members choose to eat the Paleo Diet, which mimics diets of human’s hunter-gatherer ancestors, with combinations of lean meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits and nuts.
This type of behavior is not the norm in Oklahoma. The state has the lowest adult fruit and vegetable consumption, according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
One of the challenges some Oklahomans face in eating fresh fruits and vegetables is access.
Although grocery stores like Whole Foods Market and Sunflower Market have recently opened in northwest Oklahoma City, food deserts still exist in parts of poorer communities in Oklahoma City.
For example, the 73111 ZIP code.
A food desert is a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Oklahoma City County Health Department, in collaboration with several community partners, is targeting that particular ZIP code in what it hopes will become a nationwide model.
The health department is working to build a health campus on 54 acres north of Remington Park. It will have primary care medicine from OU Medicine along with community partners offering mental health services, social health services, educational training and work force development.
One of the things the health department hopes to do is set up a system sort of like a mobile farmer’s market. The idea hasn’t been completely fleshed out, but the concept is to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to food deserts near the health campus, said Gary Cox, Oklahoma City County Health Department director.
“Obviously, in Oklahoma, what we’ve done in the last 10 or 20 years is not working,” Cox said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be 48th in health outcomes. I think it gives us pause to think of new ways to do business and work with the community to improve health.”
Leaving a legacy
Unless the state changes its health legacy, changes its decline in several health categories, the state’s residents will leave Oklahoma worse for their children, said state Health Commissioner Terry Cline.
About 40 percent of deaths are caused by behavioral health, meaning the decisions people make have a major impact on health and the contribution to early death, something that Cline keeps in mind.
“In public health, one of the things we want to do is create an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice,” Cline said. “That’s why it’s broader than what the health department is going to do, but what the community is going to do.”