Tulsa County ranks 24th in state for overall health, report says
BY SHANNON MUCHMORE World Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
4/03/12 at 7:33 AM
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Tulsa County ranks 24th in the state for overall health, partly because of a high number of ozone days and lagging social and economic factors, according to a report released Tuesday.
The third annual County Health Rankings report was created by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Tulsa County was 27th in last year's rankings.
Seminole, Greer and Kiowa counties had the worst health, and Cleveland, Texas and Canadian counties had the best overall health, according to this year's report.
Tulsa County ranked last in the physical environment section of factors that determine the ranking. That section includes particulate matter days and ozone days.
Tulsa County had 23 ozone days; the Oklahoma average was 13, and the national benchmark was zero, according to data from 2007.
The national benchmark indicates the scores from the 90th percentile of all counties in the country.
Ozone continues to be a problem in Oklahoma and the Tulsa area, although standards from the Environmental Protection Agency aren't exceeded, said Nancy Graham, air quality program manager for the Indian Nations Council of Governments.
A high level of ozone worsens asthma and allergies, causes emergency room visits to increase and is generally unhealthy to breathe, she said.
"It's like a sunburn in your lungs," she said.
It is particularly bad for children, and studies show the harm accumulates over time, she said.
In social and economic factors, Tulsa County was better than average in the number of high school graduates and residents with some college, but it was worse in unemployment, children in single-parent households and violent crime rate.
Graduation from high school has been directly linked to longer lives and better health outcomes, said Jennifer Hays-Grudo, the George Kaiser Chair in Community Medicine Research at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine.
"You learn to think when you go to school," she said. "You learn to pick up a can and look at the label."
Unemployment and violent crime create a stressful environment. People in safe areas and with steady incomes have more opportunities to exercise and buy healthy foods, she said.
A single mother on a fixed income is more likely to buy her family fast food and live in an area with more crime and fewer grocery stores, which elevates stress, she said.
"It's not only psychologically hard but it's physically damaging for your body to be under high stress," Hays-Grudo said.
More than half of the restaurants in Tulsa County are fast-food restaurants, which is similar throughout the state. The national benchmark is 25 percent, according to the report.
In the category of clinical care, Tulsa County ranked fourth, with statistics better than the Oklahoma average for the number of primary care providers, preventable hospitalizations, diabetic screening and mammography screening.
The county also did better in several other categories, including adult obesity, physical inactivity and motor vehicle crash death rate.
Kayse Shrum, provost of the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, said these factors are often connected to the social and economic issues mentioned elsewhere in the report.
People with insurance and access to health care are more likely to seek and receive preventive care like screenings and other services such as smoking-cessation classes.
"You can take care of an illness in a physician's office, but someone's home environment is a big factor in whether or not they have a healthy lifestyle," she said.
Improvement will not come from the health industry alone, she said.
"It really will take a social effort combined with a medical effort to really address the needs," she said.
Five healthiest counties
Five least-healthy counties
Source: 2012 County Health Rankings
Original Print Headline: Relatively healthy
Shannon Muchmore 918-581-8306
A customer reaches for his drive-through sack at the restaurant near 15th Street and Peoria Avenue in Tulsa on Monday. The number of fast-food restaurants in Tulsa County was a factor in ranking its health among other counties in the state. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Cars inch their way through a traffic jam on U.S. 169 near 36th Street North in Tulsa on Monday. High ozone levels in Tulsa County were a factor in ranking its health among other counties in the state. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World