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With Oklahoma ranking No. 48 in overall health, state officials hope to turn that around

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.

BY JACLYN COSGROVE Modified: April 29, 2012 at 12:50 am •  Published: April 29, 2012
/articleid/3669367/1/pictures/1703163">Photo - Left: A client  of Aaron O’Neal begins  a workout.  Photos by Jim Beckel,  The Oklahoman archives
Left: A client of Aaron O’Neal begins a workout. Photos by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman archives

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.

Food deserts

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.”

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