Tahlequah Daily Press

November 20, 2013

Holidays: Give yourself the gift of better health


TAHLEQUAH — As more scientific data becomes available, Americans are beginning to realize  it’s not necessarily fat that’s killing us – it’s the chemicals we’re absorbing from eating too much processed food.

According to the United Heath Foundation and other respected sources, Oklahoma isn’t doing so well in the health arena. Though our obesity may have leveled off somewhat since last year, it has climbed fairly steadily since 1990. In 1990, just about 12 percent of our population had a body mass index of 30 or higher, the indicator for obesity. Now, about 32 percent of us fit the bill. And diabetes has taken an even scarier turn. In 1996, only 3 percent of the adult population had been diagnosed with the disease. That percentage has almost tripled in the past couple of years.

In 2012, Oklahoma ranked 43rd among all the states in terms of health. Many of us don’t feel well, which means we’re not as happy or productive as we could be. It also means we’re spending money on health care that we could have used for, say, a family vacation, if we’d only taken some preventive steps earlier in our lives.

According to the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, Cherokee County ranks 34th among the state’s 77 counties in health outcomes, which puts us about in the middle. But when it comes to health factors – the things that actually influence our health – we’re 63rd. And that’s not good. We smoke too much, we don’t exercise enough, and our diet isn’t that great.

Some of us overuse alcohol, and a higher-than-normal number of us succumb to motor vehicle crash deaths. We don’t seek health care often enough, and when we do, we’re already very sick. And cycles of poor habits continue in families.

The county health coalition has done a tremendous job educating the public, and it’s starting to reap results. Our local health care system is just as good or better than anywhere else in the region. But ultimately, we have to take responsibility for our own well-being, and that of our families. It’s not easy. Many of us are so busy with our jobs, or raising our kids, they we have little time to eat right and exercise. But it’s important that we make the effort, whenever we can.

With Thanksgiving approaching, many local residents are planning healthy, home-cooked meals as part of their family traditions. Perhaps we can make a commitment to continue that trend. Even if we can’t make healthy meals every night, we can choose to cut down on our fast food and processed food intake, and instead of consuming “bad” fats and excessive carbohydrates, we can opt for fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meat. Say “no” to a second piece of grandma’s pumpkin pie, because all that sugar isn’t good for us. Moderation is key. And as far as exercise, we can start by walking 30 minutes every day.

Yes, it will be difficult during the holidays, and yes, eating right may cost us a bit more. But in the long run, we’ll save money, because we’ll be healthier – and that makes it all worthwhile.