Secretary reflects on state's health

Monday, September 29th 2008, 8:26 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

EDMOND, Okla. -- Dr. Mike Crutcher, the state's Secretary of Health, announced he will step down from his post at the end of January.

Crutcher is in part responsible for the smoking ban in restaurants across the state, but he said successes in the area of public health are hard to come by in Oklahoma.

The state's overall health care ranking annually is among the worst nation-wide, with Oklahoma standing in 47th place in 2007. Crutcher said chronic disease in the state is partly to blame for the low ranking.

"Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, chronic lung disease...those are very difficult challenges because they deal with changing people's behaviors," Crutcher said.

After becoming health commissioner in 2003, Crutcher focused on reducing tobacco use, a prime contributor to chronic disease and he shepherded through clean air legislation, and then spearheaded a tobacco tax hike, which he claimed has helped cut tobacco use among young people.

"That's an area that we just need to continue to be extremely aggressive in decreasing the likelihood that children will use tobacco products," Crutcher said.

Obesity and poor fitness is the other big contributors to chronic disease, and Crutcher said they've worked to improve nutrition in schools, but need more help from parents.

"I think for the most part, most people don't have a very good understanding of what it is that they could do to improve their nutritional status," Crutcher said. "I think there's a lot of learning to be done there."

Crutcher said other programs are trying to get kids and adults exercising more, including a new state obesity plan was launched just last week.

"Those three areas right there, tobacco use prevention, and then efforts aimed at improving nutritional status and increasing physical activity in Oklahomans, I think, will pay dividends, but they're going to take a while," Crutcher said.

One of the frustrations of the job is knowing that there's a direct correlation between poverty and poor health outcomes, according to Crutcher. In a state with as much poverty as there is in Oklahoma, there's only so much Crutcher could do.

Crutcher said in his remaining months, he will be pushing for more health reforms, including legislation to do away with all the exemptions to the state smoking ban.