In 2007, Oklahoma City was awarded the dubious honor of "city with the worst eating habits." It had an adult obesity rate of 33% and the greatest density of fast food outlets in the country.
Those were fighting words to Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City. According to an article on the science website Mosaic, the mayor has spent the last decade putting the city through a grand experiment to improve its collective health and wellness. First, Cornett, who had himself been declared clinically obese since taking office, challenged his citizens to collectively lose one million pounds. Then he and the city’s government initiated several wide-ranging public works programs. They built more parks, sidewalks, bike paths, and walking trails. City officials worked alongside food and beverage makers and fast food restaurants to encourage weight loss and promote healthier menu choices. Every school will have a gym.
Since the effort began, key health indicators have improved in the city’s lowest-income areas and its overall mortality rate has fallen by three percent.
This case study is a powerful reminder of how efforts to improve our country’s health and wellness need to go beyond just dietary management. They should recognize that there are a confluence of factors behind the obesity epidemic. We need to rethink all aspects of wellness so that the easy and convenient decision is also the healthy one.
These days, Oklahoma City is known as “a laboratory for healthy living”—a role model for the rest of us. Imagine what could happen if we employed just a few of Oklahoma City’s strategies on a national basis. We’d all be a little bit healthier.