Report links poverty to poor health in Oklahoma counties


Risk factors affecting the health of Oklahoma children include lack of access to affordable child care and the percentage of children living in poverty, according to a new study. (Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

A new study that ranks Oklahoma’s 77 counties from healthiest to least healthy looks not only at diet, exercise and doctor visits, but also at social and economic factors.

Canadian County in central Oklahoma ranks the healthiest, and Harmon County in the southwest corner is the least healthy, according to the 2022 National County Health Rankings Results Report. counties in the southeast quarter of the state rank in the bottom half.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps is a program of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The ranking – available at – provides local communities with data on more than 90 factors influencing health such as housing, education, employment and access to quality health care .

This year’s report explores what it takes to rebuild after a generational crisis in a way that provides economic security that contributes to the health and well-being of families.

The pandemic has exacerbated the economic hardships of families with children, and finding affordable child care has been particularly difficult. The US Department of Health and Human Services suggests that childcare should cost no more than 7% of a household’s income. According to the report, not a single county in the United States meets this cost benchmark.

In Oklahoma, a family with two children spends an average of 26% of household income on child care. The burden is greater for some families when race is considered. The median household income of a Black family is $36,790, while the median household income of an Asian family is $62,051, according to the report.

Oklahoma lawmakers have identified the lack of affordable child care as a serious threat to family well-being and the state’s economy. State Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, conducted an interim study on the issue in September.

“We have found that women – particularly minorities, young adults, low-educated adults and low-wage workers – have been hardest hit during the pandemic, and that there is a desperate need for a better access to child care for working mothers,” Hicks mentioned. “The childcare crisis is so severe that one in five women have decided to leave the labor market permanently, citing family obligations as the main reason.”

Among the social and economic factors considered in the report is child poverty. About 17% of children live in poverty across the country. The report notes that these children may experience lasting effects in adulthood on academic achievement, health and income. They are also more susceptible to chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes.

The federal government calculates the poverty line for a family of four at $26,500 per year.

In nearly every county where data is available, a greater proportion of black, Hispanic, and Native American children live in poverty. “These avoidable inequalities stem from discriminatory practices and policies embedded in education, employment, housing, transportation, and urban and regional planning,” the authors note.

The report finds that child poverty is highest in Oklahoma, affecting 20% ​​or 1 in 5 children 18 and under. In Harmon County (ranked the least healthy) it’s one in three children and in Canadian County (the healthiest) it’s one in 10.

In Oklahoma County, 19% of children live in poverty. The breakdown by race is 40% Black, 34% Hispanic, 27% American Indian, 14% Asian, and 11% White.

Oklahoma County fell from the 29th healthiest county in the state last year to 23rd in the new report.

“The good news is that we were actually one of seven counties that saw a decline in premature deaths. We are also among the five counties with the lowest prevalence of diabetes, which is very important in the Oklahoma,” said Susan Riley, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.

The county ranked poorly in sexually transmitted diseases (the report used newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,000 population). The state average is 559, while Oklahoma County had 738 cases.

Riley said OCCHD officials are concerned about sexually transmitted infections, which have increased during the pandemic as residents have stopped seeking the care they normally would. The department offers free testing and treatment for STIs and HIV at several locations in the metropolitan area.

Other areas of concern are physical inactivity and obesity rates. The report shows the two affect 34% of the county’s adult population. OCCHD offers a free program called Total Wellness, which teaches good nutrition, portion size, and healthy changes.

“We are pleased that our score was able to improve, even in the midst of a pandemic, as we were able to keep our traditional public health program operational in addition to our COVID mitigation,” Riley mentioned.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health uses the grading report as one of many tools to identify areas for health improvement, a spokeswoman said. Local health departments, in conjunction with the state health department, will spend the next few months gathering community feedback on the county’s health needs and developing health improvement plans, a- she declared.

“This is a solid resource for communities that goes beyond leaderboards. It’s a deeper dive that paves the way from data to action,” said Jill Hazeldine, executive director of the nonprofit Oklahoma Public Health Institute. “This data will enable stakeholders to make informed decisions to improve public health in their communities and across the state.”


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