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OKC is getting healthier but still has work to do, mayor says

Oklahoma City — Oklahoma City is healthier than it was a decade ago, outgoing Mayor Mick Cornett says, but a community-wide conversation about obesity needs to continue.

Cornett, who is running for governor as a Republican in a crowded field, spoke at the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health on Wednesday afternoon as part of a series of lectures on health topics.

Health originally was a peripheral issue in his mind, Cornett said, but feedback from businesses that wanted to know whether potential employees would be sick and expensive to insure made him reconsider. Seeing Oklahoma City on a list of the most obese cities was a catalyst to do something, he said.

Cornett issued a challenge for the city to lose a collective 1 million pounds in January 2008. About 47,000 people logged their weights on, where they crossed the 1 million mark in January 2012. The challenge attracted imitation from other cities, and Cornett was invited to give a TED talk about the Oklahoma City's experience.

Unfortunately, the challenge didn't produce a clear impact on the area's rates of overweight and obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data on metropolitan areas showed the obesity rate fluctuated between 29 percent and 32 percent from 2011 to 2015, without a clear pattern.

The overweight rate held steady at about 35 percent from 2011 to 2014, before jumping to about 38 percent in 2015 — though the change could be a statistical fluke.

It's possible that people within city limits lost weight as part of the challenge, but a lack of progress in the surrounding counties in the metropolitan area canceled it out. And while the obesity rate didn't go down, it also didn't increase, as the Tulsa metropolitan area's did during the same period.

The million-pound challenge was a way to grab attention and get residents talking about obesity, Cornett said, and he believes it was a factor in voters' decision to support using sales tax revenue for sidewalks, bike trails and street construction to encourage people to walk downtown, he said.

“I can't prove another 47,000 people didn't gain another million pounds,” he said. “I can tell you it started a conversation.”

Improving residents' health is still a work in progress, with efforts under way to bring fresh food into areas without grocery stores and to build places for recreation, Cornett said. Still, he thinks the city has momentum in the right direction.

“A kid growing up today is going to know they're growing up in a healthier community than I grew up in,” he said.

Obesity rate in the Oklahoma City metropolitan statistical area

2011: 28.8 percent

2012: 32 percent

2013: 29.9 percent

2014: 30.9 percent

2015: 29.5 percent

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›