Carter County ranks 54 out of 77 Oklahoma Counties in terms of overall health outcomes according to a recent joint study conducted by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Steven Embree, Oklahoma director of communications with the American Heart Association, broke down some of the findings.
“They do this study all over the country and go state by state, and because our goal is to save lives here in Oklahoma, it’s a great statistic for us to use to show where we are in the rankings,” Embree said. “Even within Oklahoma, it’s a great tool for us to see where there is the greatest need for change. So we use these statistics to try to help promote health on the local level.”
Embree said that Oklahoma currently ranks 48 in the nation for overall cardiovascular health, and the southeastern region of the state is where some of the worst health outcomes are. Embree said a variety of factors combine to create this low score. However, tobacco use is the number one factor.
 “We did a statewide survey this year to figure out what the number one contributor to poor health in the state is,” Embree said. “And we came back with tobacco use as the number one issue in the state.”
Embree said smaller communities are especially hard hit by this issue.
 “I think it’s really prevalent in those smaller communities because it’s kind of a generational thing,” Embree said. “It’s harder to break those habits because a lot of the antismoking campaigns focus on the bigger cities because that’s where the largest proportion of the population is.”
He said a sedentary lifestyle and poor diets are another major contributor to the area’s overall low health score.
“One of the stats we like to throw out is that 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable just through a few simple lifestyle changes,” Embree said. He said this is especially true of women.
 “In Oklahoma the traditional diet within our state is not very healthy, and in a lot of these more rural areas, people just don’t get much exercise,” Embree said. “If you look at the cities and in the more urban areas, even the people who don’t make time for exercise are walking a lot more. They have to because you can’t pull right up to the door any time you go to the store.”
He used an example of his own childhood growing up in Wynnewood to underline this point.
 “You don’t have to park a long ways out in the parking lot. You can just pull right up and get the closest spot,” Embree said. “Lots of little things like that all cumulatively play a role in poor health.”
He said this was one of the reasons the American Heart Association launched the Southeastern Oklahoma Heart Walk three years ago. The first year, the walk was held in Ada, and last year’s walk, along with the upcoming walk this weekend, will be held in Ardmore.
“These are a way for us to come into the communities that need information the most and hopefully educate them a bit,” Embree said. “It gets people outside and moving a little bit and in turn it will raise money for some of the research we’re doing.”
The Southeastern Oklahoma Heartwalk will kick off at 8:30 a.m. this Saturday, April 27 at Central Park. The day will start with some announcements and many local businesses will have tents set up providing information. There will also be free health screenings provided and a Kids Heart Challenge obstacle course located on E Street sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation.
 On top of all this, a local speaker who was born with a congenital heart defect will give a brief speech about her journey.
The walk itself will be a 5K stroll around local neighborhoods near the park and is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m.