$3.9M project to address obesity in rural eastern Oklahoma
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) – Oklahoma State University has a $3.9 million plan to address obesity in two rural counties, one of which includes the town with the lowest life expectancy in the U.S.
The Curbing Obesity program will use a five-year federal grant to offer cooking classes and distribute healthy food options in Muskogee and Adair counties in eastern Oklahoma, The Tulsa World reported.
More than 40 percent of residents in those counties are obese. Stilwell in Adair County has the lowest life expectancy in the country, with residents living an average of just 56.3 years.
The university’s Center for Health Systems Innovation will run the program in partnership with local organizations. Primary-care physicians will be asked to identify patients at risk of obesity-related health problems and refer them to the program. Officials hope to apply the information gathered from the pilot program to other rural areas in Oklahoma, said William Paiva, CHSI's executive director.
“It will take decades or generations to see a change in life expectancy,” he said. “But it starts with curbing obesity.”
The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma will participate by offering classes that it says will show people how to make delicious, low-cost, healthy meals.
“Ironically, poverty and obesity can go together,” said David Parrack, director of finance and accounting at the food bank. “The most affordable meals are not necessarily the healthiest.”
Many families don’t have a history of having home-cooked meals and changing such eating habits may take generations, he said.
“If you can reach one family, you can make a difference in the quality of life of that family,” Parrack said. “And it doesn’t take many families, one by one, to begin making a difference for the community.”