Oklahoma’s youth obesity rate ranked sixth, analysis shows

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahomans continue to pack on the pounds.

More than 1 in 3 Oklahoma adults is now obese, according to an analysis released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy that focuses on pressing health issues.

That’s up from 1 in 5 in 2000. In 1990, just 10 percent of adults were classified as having excessive body fat, the study found.

Oklahoma’s adult obesity rate now ranks 10th in the country, the analysis determined.

For youth ages 10 to 17, the state’s obesity rate ranks sixth in the country. An estimated 18 percent of youth are classified as obese.

Study officials, though, noted a declining obesity rate among youth ages 2 to 4 who are enrolled in feeding assistance best known as WIC, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

Those obesity rates dropped from 15.4 percent to 13.8 between 2010 and 2014, the study found.

The report warns that if the state’s numbers remain on track, nearly 513,000 Oklahomans will have adult diabetes by 2030. Nearly 1.1 million will have heart disease. And the number of people suffering obesity-related cancers will increase from 60,000 in 2010 to 147,000 by 2030.

“Absolutely, we should be taking these numbers seriously because this represents the health of our state’s workforce,” said Julie Bisbee, executive director of TSET, the state’s billion-dollar Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. “Obese children are more likely to become overweight or obese adults."

TSET spends the trust’s annual earnings on a variety of programs that promote public health, tobacco cessation, obesity reduction, cancer research and physician training in rural areas.

Smoking among adults in Oklahoma costs $545 per person. Obesity costs $400 per person, according to TSET.

Bisbee said it’s important that children learn healthy habits early because as they age, behaviors become more entrenched.

“We are always talking about how healthy habits learned young last a lifetime,” she said.

But children have little control over their environment. They don’t control foods coming into their home, whether their family has access to a grocery store that sells fresh fruits and lean meat, or what’s within walking distance from their home, Bisbee said.

“I think I’m very encouraged over the last year or so that we are talking about these issues,” she said. “Obesity is not just about an individual choice.”

Bisbee said TSET encourages physical activity, eating fruits and vegetables and drinking water rather than sugary beverages.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said it also looked at Oklahoma’s current policies to prevent obesity. It noted that though state law requires early childhood education programs to have healthy eating policies, it does not require providing meals and snacks that meet dietary guidelines.

Joe Dorman, CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, said he knew the obesity rates were far too high.

“We’ve got to do a better job of getting these kids exercise during the school hours because that’s something that’s been reduced through the years with the demands put on schools,” he said.

The report noted that while state law requires elementary students to participate in physical education, it’s not required for middle and high school students. Oklahoma elementary schools also are not currently required to offer recess.

Dorman said it’s critical to teach children about proper nutrition and healthy eating. People are far too distracted and busy in their daily lives to pay attention to the junk foods kids are consuming or ensure they’re getting exercise, he said.

His group has partnered with the Oklahoma Municipal League to encourage families to visit community parks and playgrounds, go outside and spend 60 minutes of active time with their children.

“Things like that will go a long ways toward reducing the obesity rate,” he said.

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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