Oklahoma climbed to third-heaviest state in 2017
Oklahoma City — Oklahoma jumped to the third-heaviest state in 2017, from the already unenviable position of eighth, according to the Trust for America's Health's new report on obesity.
The obesity rate increased to 36.5 percent, making Oklahoma one of seven states where more than 35 percent of adults have obesity. Only West Virginia and Mississippi had higher obesity rates.
In 2016, about 33.9 percent of Oklahoma adults had obesity, or a body-mass index greater than 30. For a person who is 5-foot-10, that would mean a weight of at least 209 pounds, with lower cut-offs for shorter people and higher thresholds for those who are taller.
Some people with a great deal of muscle mass are healthy despite having a high BMI, but there's no evidence that Oklahomans have a new passion for lifting weights, particularly since it was the fourth-least active state. About 32.4 percent of Oklahoma adults reported they hadn't gotten any exercise in the last 30 days, other than activity that was part of their jobs.
No state has succeeded in reducing its obesity rate, and even getting it to level out will require efforts from individuals, schools, communities and health care providers, said John Woods, executive director of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, which also funds grants related to nutrition and physical activity.
“All of these approaches are going to be necessary if we're going to have long-term sustainable progress,” he said.
Part of the battle is convincing both individuals and people who make policy decisions that obesity is a public health emergency, Woods said. It is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and 13 types of cancer, he said.
It's not totally clear why excess weight would be so harmful to the body, but one theory is that it causes long-term inflammation, which damages organs over time.
In 2017, Oklahoma had the ninth-highest rate of high blood pressure and the eighth-highest rate of diabetes among adults, according to the report. Most of the increase has been in Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity.
Despite the grim numbers, the report urged states to look to a few bright spots for ideas to improve. Some communities that have worked to encourage physical activity and good nutrition have lowered the rate of increase in obesity, though no one seems to have found a way to decrease it on a wide scale.
Oklahoma hasn't adopted some of the report's recommendations for addressing obesity, such as setting nutrition standards for early-childhood education programs, requiring recess in elementary school and physical education in middle and high school, and adopting policies to encourage sidewalks and bike lanes.
The state also has a high rate of food insecurity and poverty. About 16 percent of all Oklahomans and 23 percent of Oklahoma children live in families who have limited or uncertain access to food. People who are worried about getting food on the table tend to buy bulk quantities of packaged items, which typically don't offer good nutrition, Woods said.
Communities and schools can help by creating environments where junk food isn't so conveniently available and it's easier to find a place to exercise, Woods said. Parents also can help reduce the future burden of obesity by implementing small health changes with their kids, he said. Some ideas are available at ShapeYourFutureOK.com.
“We're looking at something that's generational,” he said. “There's never going to be a magic pill or a magic policy.”