State Health Rankings, From

First to worst as Oklahoma’s life rankings tanked

Third of a six part series on the Marijuana initiative petition.

From the four censuses of 1960 to 1990 , Oklahoma came out first in one category ahead of Utah, and all other states as well. While Utah was climbing 5 slots to 1st in longest life expectancy, Oklahoma, fell from 3rd to 41st, from the top quintile to the bottom quintile. Oklahoma was first of any state, with the most losses of life expectancy rankings. Not pretty, and not a nomination for an award.

Griizzly If your neck ain’t sore, it ain’t headbanging. WARNING Smokeless tobacco is addictive.  Tellin’ it like it is.

Can anything be identified that changed Oklahoma’s culture so dramatically enough, as to influence life expectancy? I’ll suggest some events.

Some dramatic things occurred at that time. From before Oklahoma’s statehood in 1907, and written into it’s Constitution, to 1959, Oklahoma had Prohibition of alcohol, meaning all beer (above 3.2 percent alcohol), wine, and spirits. Most of the rest of the nation repealed Prohibition after 1933. Oklahoma kept it another 25 years. Being surrounded by liquor states, (to wit – Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas), liquor was available at most two hours away, and with a little planning, the liquor could be brought in and stored for convenient use.  But it was inconvenient.

The state was dry with the third best life expectancy in the country. The prohibition meant liquor, beer, wine, could not be advertised in Oklahoma. No billboards. No restaurant wine lists. No service station 24 hour shopping stops for beer in the middle of the night.  No alcohol drinks at casinos.  Fewer keg parties at the colleges and schools. But alas, special elections to promote alcohol, chipped away and cut away at the guard rails on the side of highway. Within 2 decades, liquor was for sale in every county, and the government was still looking for more sources of tax revenues.  In the 1970s   parie mutuel gambling was legalized for the horse race tracks.  Previously horse racing was legal, you just could not publicly gamble on the race. In the 1980s the oil economy collapsed in Oklahoma.  Liquor was the go to stimulant to celebrate when things were great, and the go to stimulant when Okies wanted to commiserate loss of work, loss of home, loss of friends. And when liquor didn’t work, there were more drugs to test.

None of this was evaluated, but it was reflected in the census life expectancy rankings from the Department of Commerce. Instead of a good, better and best curve, Oklahoma dived into a bad, and getting worse.  The state still has not recovered from thoses choices, hovering its life expectancy ranking in the bottom quintile.

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