An annual study shows that Oklahoma’s health ranking has declined.
The United Health Foundation ranks the state 48th in the nation when it comes to overall health in 2011. Last year, the state ranked 46th. Mississippi and Louisiana ranked 50th and 49th, respectively, in the study. Arkansas, the state’s eastern neighbor, was 47th. The number one ranking went to Vermont, a state that has been a forerunner in establishing a single-payer health care system.
It’s easy to dismiss such rankings, which always paint a dismal picture of Oklahoma. The years and the bad health reports go by, and not much ever gets done. Why even acknowledge the obvious? What’s the point?
But it remains important to remind ourselves of the factors that lead to poor health rankings. Even small incremental, positive change is good, though the United Health Foundation ranking shows Oklahoma is going in the wrong direction.
Here are some of the reasons Oklahoma ranks so low:
- It ranks 49th in the nation in the number of primary care physicians compared to population. This has been a chronic dilemma for the state, which has a rural population that is underserved medically.
- It ranks 47th in the nation in premature deals, defined as the “loss of years of life lost due to death before age 75.” The study notes, “… cancer, unintentional injury, heart disease, suicide and deaths occurring during the perinatal period are the top five causes of premature death . . .”
- It ranks 48th in the number of people who smoke on a per capita basis. The overall smoking rate has decreased somewhat over the last two decades, but it still remains a major problem here. Smoking can lead to severe health problems, including cancer and emphysema.
- It ranks 42nd in the number of children living in poverty, perhaps the most important statistic. When children grow up without adequate health care because their parents are too poor to afford it, they are more likely to develop chronic illness.
The state also has poor rankings in early prenatal care, infant mortality and cardiovascular deaths.
All of this means that Oklahoma is simply not a healthy place to live on a general basis. Obviously, people can choose to live healthier lives-this is the right-wing slogan when it comes to studies like this one-but the state’s infrastructure, from its lack of sidewalks to its automobile-dependent lifestyle, means healthy routines are not built easily into day-to-day living. Poverty also contributes to the poor ranking.
It’s also important to note that the poor health rankings are regional in nature, with states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas leading the pack. Texas is ranked 44th. Perhaps, there should be a broader and extensive regional approach to the health care dilemma of all these states.
Many Oklahomans are probably tired of hearing about the state’s poor medical outcomes, but we shouldn’t risk falling into the trap of indifference over an important issue that affects the quality of life for everyone.