Decisions made at the local level can have a great impact in improving Oklahoma’s health.
Grants funded by Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) works with businesses, city governments, community organizations and schools to encourage healthy eating, physical activity and tobacco-free lifestyles.
“We know that the greatest impact on health can happen at the local level where we live, work, learn and play,” said John Woods, TSET executive director. “It’s encouraging to see local leaders embracing policies and strategies that support healthy choices and help create vibrant communities.”
TSET was created by voters who approved an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution in 2000 that set aside a portion of lawsuit settlement payments from the national Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement for investment in an endowment. Only the investment earnings are used to fund grants and programs to improve health. An appointed board of investors oversees the investments, and an appointed board of directors determines how earnings should be spent.
Oklahoma continues to rank concerningly low in health rankings. Half of all cancers are caused by obesity and tobacco use. Oklahoma has some of the highest rates of tobacco use and obesity in the nation. TSET’s grants and programs continue to work to reverse that trend by supporting a comprehensive approach that educates Oklahomans on the importance of healthy choices, and offers resources and support for lasting change, Woods said.
In Elk City, a partnership with TSET is helping the western Oklahoma community add amenities for residents, reduce tobacco use and encourage physical activity.
Through TSET’s Healthy Communities Incentive Grant program, the city of Elk City was awarded a $45,000 grant after the city adopted health-promoting policies and met other grant criteria. The city has utilized the funds for engineering and designing the landscape of an existing 36-acre park for walking, biking and outdoor activity.
The first step was adopting a policy that made all city-owned property tobacco free and e-cigarette free.
“This has made a wonderful impact on our community,” said Elesia Church, treasurer and grant administrator for Elk City.
“How could this not be a positive impact on any community?” she asked. “Making these efforts shows that we’re progressive. We’ve seen other partners in our community embracing our vision and the direction we’re going. They’ve shown interest in getting on board and becoming a part of the vision.”
Schools and communities that have achieved Certified Healthy Oklahoma status and meet grant criteria are eligible to apply for the TSET incentive grants. The Certified Healthy Oklahoma program is a partnership between the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals, the Oklahoma Turning Point Council, the State Chamber and the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Currently, 74 school districts and 56 communities have received incentive grants for their efforts to create a healthier environment to live, learn, work and play.
“These sort of collaborations are really what it’s all about,” Woods said. “Elk City is creating strong partnerships to promote a healthy community for years to come. That’s how these grants making last change that will improve the health of our children and grandchildren.”
In addition to incentive grants, Elk City has also received a grant through the TSET Healthy Living Grant program. The City of Elk City was awarded the grant that serves Beckham County and four surrounding counties.
Staff work with businesses, city governments, community organizations and schools to encourage healthy eating, physical activity and tobacco-free lifestyles.
The TSET Healthy Living Grant Program seeks to lessen the burden of unhealthy behaviors before they take root. Reducing the risk factors of tobacco use and obesity will save lives and money, Woods said.
“It’s clear Elk City not only cares about the health of its citizens, but also the health of the people of this region,” said Oklahoma Commissioner of Health, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Terry Cline. “What Elk City has done is create an overall culture of health. The city has been a multi-year Certified Healthy Community and is setting the example for communities in this region. This will help make Oklahoma a healthier place to call home.”