OKLAHOMA CITY – The Board of Directors for the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement and Endowment Trust (TSET) approved funding for new programs that will increase Oklahomans’ access to nutritious food as the state addresses the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, the board awarded a contract Tuesday for a new statewide marketing initiative focused on preventing and reducing tobacco use and obesity for Oklahoma’s youth. The Board also approved new Healthy Living Program 2.0 grants that will target 37 counties in the state.
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown that prevention is more important than ever for public health,” said TSET Board of Directors Chair Bruce Benjamin, Ph.D. “Those with underlying conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart or lung disease are more likely to experience serious complications and death from the coronavirus.
“The TSET Board of Directors approved investment in ensuring that Oklahomans have access to healthy food at a time when too many of our neighbors are struggling to feed their families,” Benjamin said. “We are investing in building healthier communities in the areas where we see the greatest health disparities, and we’re investing in Oklahoma’s future by helping youth develop healthy habits at a young age.”
Food Insecurity Addressed
Funding set aside to address food security creates a new opportunity for projects that could include support for food access and distribution systems in Oklahoma or other programs that increase access to nutritious foods. The board allocated up to $1 million to be awarded for short-term projects.
Food insecurity, already a problem in Oklahoma, has worsened since the coronavirus pandemic began. At the end of April, more than one in five households in the United States, and two in five households with mothers with children 12 and under, were food insecure, according to preliminary national surveys.
Potential funding recipients could include non-profits providing services in Oklahoma, state and local government organizations and tribal nations already working in the food security arena. Additional information on the funding opportunity will be forthcoming.
Youth Contract Approved
The Board also approved a contract with Rescue, a marketing agency focused on health campaigns, to launch a statewide education campaign focused on Oklahoma youth ages 13 through 18. Funding begins July 1 with the first messaging expected to begin in September. The plan calls for an investment of $2.5 million a year over five years with specific behavior change benchmarks to be reached around tobacco use, prevention and cessation and obesity prevention and reduction.
“Over the last two years, a vaping epidemic among youth has erased two decades of gains in the fight against youth tobacco use,” said Michelle Stephens, vice chair of the TSET Board of Directors. “We know that healthy habits learned at a young age are more likely to last for a lifetime. Ensuring a healthy future for our state means focusing on Oklahoma’s children today.”
The specific focus on youth prevention would be a new program under TSET’s public education efforts and will complement Tobacco Stops With Me, that seeks to educate Oklahoma adults on the hazards of tobacco use and secondhand smoke and Shape Your Future, which educates parents and families on eating better, moving more and living tobacco free.
New five-year community grants approved
The Board also awarded nearly $7 million to 35 organizations serving 37 counties through the TSET Healthy Living Program 2.0 program. The new grant program will begin July 1.
“The second generation of TSET Healthy Living Program takes a comprehensive, community approach to health and looks for ways for targeted high-impact interventions,” said TSET Executive Director Julie Bisbee. “This initiative builds on years of success through multiple community based programs funded by TSET. It places a laser focus on communities with the greatest need.”
The five-year grants, renewable annually, will support communities in developing strategies, programs and policies to improve health by preventing or reducing tobacco use, improving nutrition, and increasing physical activity in an effort to decrease premature death in Oklahoma. The program prioritizes work in communities where health risk factors – tobacco use, poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle — are among the highest.
Recipients of the TSET Healthy Living Program 2.0:
Muskogee County Health Department, $219,946.
Cherokee County Health Services Council, $220,000.