A recent editorial in The Oklahoman shows just how intractable and narrow minded some city leaders are when it comes to significantly improving the quality of life here.
The headline says it all: “More bad news on obesity, but government isn't the solution.”
Published July 12, the editorial cites a national report that shows Oklahoma is ranked at seventh in the nation with an obesity rate of 31.4 percent. The editorial goes through the report, says “no thanks” to a recommendation that everyone get screened for obesity and diabetes as part of a preventative medical effort and then ends with this typical caveat:
Getting out of it will take another generation, or more. But it will result from individuals making better choices about diet and exercise, not from government fiat.
Individual responsibility over community. Survival of the fittest—literally—over advocating common sense planning choices.
The Oklahoman doesn’t speak for all leaders here, but I think it’s fair to argue this particular, hands-off philosophy when it comes to health issues has contributed to some dubious distinctions for the state. Just recently, for example, the Oklahoma City area was named the most unfit metropolitan area among the nation’s largest 50 cities.
Obesity is not just an Oklahoma problem, of course, and these never-ending reports about our collective weight should not be used as a cudgel to embarrass anyone.
But the state, and especially the Oklahoma City area, needs more sidewalks, bike lanes, ball diamonds, soccer facilities and parks. It needs more swimming pools and jogging trails. People need to walk more and drive less. People need better access to medical care. These arguments are not part of some “government fiat.” They simple argue for better planning to improve the quality of life for everyone, even those in the best physical shape. Obviously, this has an impact on overall economic development as well, but it’s primarily small-business focused and doesn’t necessarily affect the area’s high rollers. That’s a major problem given the leadership dynamics in Oklahoma City.
Meanwhile, the editorial exposes a crass attitude that makes it terribly unsurprising the Oklahoma City Council has voted to move up the timeline in building the new convention center under the MAPS 3 project. The convention center will primarily benefit a segment of the business community here, though some city leaders dispute that, and will do nothing to improve the collective health here. When do we get the urban park, the biking and walking trails and the new street-car system, which are all part of MAPS 3 and would improve the collective health here? Let’s hope all city leaders, not just the handful who opposed moving up the timeline on the convention center, can get as enthusiastic about those life-affirming aspects of MAPS 3 as they can about hotel profits.
It’s a long shot prediction in red-state Oklahoma, but those local U.S. Representatives who recently voted in favor of dismantling Medicare could face reelection problems in 2012.
All the Republicans in Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of a budget proposal by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) that would change Medicare into a voucher program in which seniors would have to eventually pay substantially more for their health care and insurance. (I wrote about the proposal here. Here is Paul Krugman on the issue). To his credit, U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, a Blue Dog Democrat, voted against the plan, which passed the House because of the Republican majority and failed in the Senate.
Amid all the negative hoopla over Ryan’s plan, Democrat Kathy Hochul won a U.S. House special election race in upstate New York in a predominately Republican district by campaigning against the GOP’s Medicare elimination plan.
Could a Hochul-like victory happen here? Unfortunately, there are no clear signs that it could, and with the local, anti-Obama hysteria fanned constantly by the biased, corporate media here, it seems almost impossible for Democrats to make gains in the short term. Yet Democrats could have an opportunity in some races if they pushed back against the destruction of Medicare and fielded good candidates.
U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe are not up for reelection in 2012, but all House seats will be up for grabs. At this point, the best chance for Democratic success would seem to be in U.S. Rep. James Lankford’s 5th District and U.S. John Sullivan’s 1st District. Those districts cover large metropolitan areas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and, by default, have more diversity in political philosophies. Grassroots campaigns probably have a better chance right now in those areas. Perhaps, the perennially cash-strapped Democrats could focus on those two districts as they offer to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from the Republicans.
Lankford, pictured right with Ryan, who is serving his first term, seems especially vulnerable because he has really done nothing in Washington but essentially expressed frustration about the political process and supported Ryan’s plan to end Medicare as we know it. The idea that the Ryan plan on Medicare is a serious proposal is just nonsense. But that’s what Lankford wants us to believe. Why does Lankford want seniors on fixed incomes to pay astronomical amounts of money for health care? He needs to be held accountable.
Can Democrats here keep Medicare as an issue if the GOP backs away from the radical proposal? Yes, but those efforts need to start now and continue through the general election in 2012. The issue is simply that the current Republican political ideology in Washington is radical and dangerous. A prevailing number of Republicans apparently want to dismantle programs for seniors and end them for future generations. Those programs include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The Republicans argue they want to cut government spending, but, meanwhile, we continue to pour money into two military actions that Americans quit supporting years ago. Here’s what the GOP political strategy seems to be right now: Ignore what people want Congress to do and hurt as many old people as possible in the process. It may not be political suicide here among the Obama haters, but it didn’t fly in upstate New York, and it’s not going to fly in other places as well.
The idea, pushed by Republicans, that any protest against their plan is “Mediscare” and hyperbole is laughable and ludicrous given the GOP political venom used to attack the Affordable Care Act.
So the Democratic strategy here right now should be two-fold when it comes to the Congressional races: Pound Republicans on their cruel, inhumane votes to dismantle Medicare and find good candidates, who will have to work extremely hard for a long-shot chance at victory. It’s not much, but it’s something.
It should come as no surprise that Oklahoma City has been ranked the most unfit city in the nation.
Actually, the dubious distinction goes to the entire metropolitan area, including Oklahoma, Canadian, Cleveland, Lincoln, Logan and McClain counties, according to the annual American Fitness Index, which is sponsored by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
The metropolitan area received a dead last ranking among the nation’s 50 largest cities, with a score of 24.6 percent. By contrast, the fittest metropolitan area, Minneapolis, received a score of 77.2
Oklahoma City area residents exercise less, smoke more and eat less healthy than the average ranking in the study. Combine that with fewer parks and poor access to primary health care providers, and it’s a no brainer that the Oklahoma City area has a higher percentage of people with heart disease and diabetes.
Once dubbed the nation’s “fast-food capital” of America, Oklahoma City ranks high in obesity and low in the number of people with health insurance. Lower median household income doesn’t help the situation, according to the study.
What do the numbers mean in some real, street terms?
(1) We drive too much and don’t walk enough. The city’s sprawl makes it difficult to get around without driving.
(2) There are not enough healthy and inexpensive food choices at our local grocery stores.
(3) It’s difficult for some people here to see a doctor for a myriad of reasons, including lack of insurance and even just transportation. Mild health problems then become severe.
(4) The metropolitan area needs a lot more jogging and biking trails. It needs more sidewalks. It needs more interesting places to walk and jog.
(5) Oklahoma City has too much urban blight, which makes it unattractive for walkers and joggers.
(6) There is too much untreated mental illness and addiction in the Oklahoma City area.
The AFI study will undoubtedly receive some standard lip service from city leaders about the need for improvement, but the fact remains people here are stuck driving everywhere—and walking less—because of planning by city leaders decades ago. It’s probably impossible to rectify that basic situation now unless gasoline prices went so high people moved closer to their jobs and started walking or even bicycling more, but Oklahoma City and surrounding suburban cities need to accelerate their efforts to encourage healthy lifestyles.
Getting ranked as the most unfit big city area in the nation should be considered a major problem because of quality of life issues and economic development, but will anything get done about it?