Our state ranks as one of the top five unhealthiest states in the nation. Oklahomans face a shorter life expectancy than those in most other states, according to the 2011 State of the State’s Health Report. Our State’s Health Report Card is lined with D’s and F’s in most categories. 
So what makes Oklahoma rank so poorly? Our high prevalence of smoking and obesity combined with the facts that only one in seven Oklahomans eat enough fruits and vegetables plays a large part; we also rank 49th in the nation for lack of physical activity.

Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease tops the list as the leading cause of death in our nation as well as our state. Twenty-seven percent more Oklahomans die of heart disease than the national average, earning the state the second highest spot and an ‘F’ on the State Health Report Card.  
When treating and preventing heart disease, doctors mainly address the risk factors, says Dr. James Hanlon, an internal medicine physician with St. John Health System’s OMNI Medical Group. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes are the leading causes of cardiovascular disease.

Hanlon recommends quitting smoking, consuming alcohol in moderation, eating appropriately and exercising regularly.

“We can’t change age, family history or gender,” explains Hanlon. “But lifestyle changes are very important in controlling heart disease.”

Dr. Joe Reese, an internal medicine physician with Saint Francis Health System, says routine screenings are also important to prevent deaths due to heart disease.

“Heart disease is preventable,” encourages Reese. “It is best treated before symptoms exist. Aggressive screening and risk factor analysis is very helpful.”

Reese also points out that some effects of heart disease are reversible, especially with lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol. Inexpensive, effective drugs are available to combat these conditions.


The second leading cause of death for Oklahomans is cancer. Oklahoma has the seventh highest rate of cancer deaths in the U.S., giving us a ‘D’ on our report card. Cancer death rates are significantly higher among men than women, but that gap is narrowing as the number of men dying from cancer is decreasing.

Men most commonly face prostate; lung and bronchus; colorectal and urinary; and bladder cancers. Women battle breast; lung and bronchus; colorectal and uterine cancers most often.

Our high rate of cancer deaths is thought to have two main causes: the high prevalence of smokers and lack of access to medical care in rural Oklahoma.

 “Some cancers are preventable, especially those associated with tobacco use. Cervical cancer is preventable through vaccines,” says Reese. “Early detection is very important and is associated with a much more favorable outcome.”

Respiratory Diseases

Chronic lower respiratory diseases, specifically chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma claims the third most number of Oklahomans. Oklahoma has the highest number of deaths from lung diseases in the nation, resulting in another grade of ‘F.’

“The vast majority of chronic lung disease is related to smoking,” says Hanlon.

COPD accounts for 98 percent of deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases in Oklahoma. Smoking is the leading cause for COPD.

“Curbing our tobacco use will greatly reduce our lung disease and reduce hospital admissions,” says Reese. “Lung disease accounts for most hospital admissions.”   


Cerebrovascular disease (stroke) is the fifth leading cause of death for Oklahomans. Strokes usually affect seniors age 65 and older. In addition to killing a lot of Oklahomans, stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

“Preventing a stroke is very similar to heart disease,” says Hanlon.

“It is important to manage blood pressure and cholesterol,” agrees Reese.  


Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death for Oklahomans. Oklahoma has the fourth highest diabetes death rate in the nation, giving us yet again another ‘F’ and costing Oklahoma billions of dollars each year.

“Diabetes kills by damaging your heart and kidneys,” explains Reese.

“Diabetes is no longer a disease of the elderly,” comments Reese. “It’s becoming more common in 30- and 40-year-olds.”

Diabetes is best controlled by weight loss, says Hanlon.

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