NORMAN — September is National Childhood Obesity Month, and each year during this month, we take time to focus on some of our most vulnerable citizens and their health.
According to the American Heart Association, one in three American children and teens are considered overweight or obese. That’s nearly triple the number in 1963. More of our children are developing problems that were previously considered adult issues, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.
Obesity is also affecting our children psychologically, as overweight children are developing low self-esteem, negative body image and depression.
The good news is we are taking the steps to remove barriers and empower Oklahomans to make the choice to live healthy and more active lifestyles. This year, I teamed up with the Oklahoma Fit Kids Coalition and the American Heart Association to pass Senate Bill 1882.
This legislation, also known as the shared use bill, clarifies liability laws for our schools that choose to open their doors to community groups for physical activity and recreation. Doing so removes a major barrier for families seeking more options for physical activity and will help return public schools to the hub of activity in many communities across Oklahoma.
Statistics show people with access to recreation facilities exercise 38 percent more than people without similar access. Unfortunately, not all communities have access to proper facilities.
Our schools have begun to turn their lights out and lock their doors out of fear of costly litigation, becoming inaccessible to Oklahomans who might otherwise use them on evenings and weekends. Through shared use agreements, schools will now be able to open their facilities to the community, giving Oklahomans increased access to facilities like gymnasiums, running tracks and tennis courts.
This fall, the Fit Kids Coalition and the American Heart Association — with my full support and help — are helping communities across Oklahoma secure shared-use agreements with their local schools. This will give communities access to public resources to help us move toward a healthier state by creating safe places for our children and families to gather together.
For more information about shared use agreements, visit fitkidsok.org/our-projects/shared-use.
While this is an important step, we still have more work to do. It’s not enough to just provide a place for children to be active. We must arm them with the tools to live healthy lifestyles.
Our children need to be educated about the importance of being active, eating nutritious foods and living healthy lifestyles. To promote that message, we’re committed to the Certified Healthy Schools initiative, which offers financial incentives to schools that voluntarily increase access to physical activity and access to nutritious foods for students.
The initiative is part of a larger program that includes Certified Healthy Communities, Businesses, Restaurants and Campuses.
On state-owned property, we’re going one step further to set a healthy example. To do that, I signed an executive order this year prohibiting tobacco use on all state properties.
Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in Oklahoma, and prohibiting tobacco use on state property will help us combat that epidemic. It also will save the state millions of dollars in health care costs for state employees, while decreasing employee absenteeism and increasing productivity.
Finally, I was pleased to join hundreds of state employees and workers in the private sector earlier this year, along with Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Terry Cline, in a “Walk for Wellness” program. Our goal was to raise awareness among all Oklahomans on the importance of daily physical activity. We hope you follow our lead and do the same.
Whether you are the CEO of a company or the CEO of your family, we all can take simple steps that will have life-changing impact for us and the next generation of Oklahomans. Your efforts can lead to a healthier and more prosperous Oklahoma and a happier and more fulfilling life for you and your loved ones.
Mary Fallin serves as governor of Oklahoma.