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For more than two decades, Utah has been an example of how to keep people healthy and safe. This year, the 23rd annual United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings report calls Utah the 7th healthiest state in the nation. Highlights include:
“We’re pleased to continue on a course of healthy behaviors, like exercising and avoiding smoking and binge drinking,” said Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Executive Director Dr. David Patton. “But our work truly is never done, as we still don’t have enough primary care physicians, our air is often unhealthy to breathe, and our low immunization rates are apparent in the fact that we rank near the bottom in preventing infectious diseases.”
And while the state appears to be doing well in the obesity battle, ranking 6th lowest in the nation, UDOH leaders say numbers can be deceiving.
“Right now, one in every four Utahns is obese, and the number goes up every year,” said UDOH Deputy Director Robert Rolfs, M.D. “Our eating habits – especially the empty sugar calories we consume – are killing us.”
Health disparities are another area of concern for UDOH staff. The UHF report finds that more than 30 percent of the state’s non-Hispanic Native Americans, and more than 29 percent of Hispanics, are obese.
The report also cited low public health funding as a significant hurdle. In 29th place, Utah spends an average of $67 per resident. In contrast, the number 1 state spends 3.5 times that at $236 per person.
“We have a lot of work to do, and we can become the healthiest state in the nation,” said Teresa Garrett, UDOH director of Disease Control and Prevention. “We can do it with the help of our partners, including those at the local health departments. They deserve much of the credit for helping keep people healthy through their clinics, immunization programs, and numerous other services.”
In all, Utah ranks in the top 10 in 13 of the 24 determinants:
The state’s lowest rankings are:
There are many factors at work in Utah’s consistent top 10 ranking over the 23 years of the UHF report. “The rankings document much of the valuable work done in public health,” said Dr. Patton. “And we must also give credit to other significant factors, like our culture of health and healthy behaviors, like avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and to our nationally-recognized, high quality private health care systems.”