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Utah 5th in analysis of states’ health

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Utah is No. 5 in terms of health, thanks in no small part to lower rates of smoking, heart disease and cancer deaths, according to a state-by-state analysis released Wednesday by the United Health Foundation. Last year, Utah ranked No. 6.

But the good news comes with a fair share of bad news as well. While Utah has the lowest smoking rate, the incidence is trending upward. A year ago, 9.8 percent smoked; it's now 11.7 percent. Over five years, obesity has increased from 17.5 percent to 22.4 percent of the population, so while Utah's ranking has improved, the scales are tipping and more Utahns are too heavy. And since 1990, the report says, the rate of those without insurance has climbed from 11.9 percent to 15.1 percent. Meanwhile, the number of children who are fully immunized has dropped.

"While we rank quite high on indicators they use, I don't take a lot of pride or satisfaction in realizing that more people are smoking and the incidence of obesity and oversight has gone up 28 percent in five years," said Utah Department of Health director Dr. David N. Sundwall. Utah has "relatively good health" compared to parts of the nation that are "not particularly healthy."

He said the rankings are valuable because they give states both a pat on the back and information about where they're lagging.

On 14 of 22 measures, Utah is among the top 10 states. Lower rates of binge drinking, lower infant mortality, fewer people in poor physical health, high school graduation rates, reduced premature death and relatively low violent crime rates are all among its positive rankings. Its "challenges," according to the report, are limited access to primary care physicians (89.6 per 100,000 population), moderate immunization coverage for children 19 to 35 months of age and low public-health funding. Utah averages $61 per person.

Utah is tops in terms of smoking rate and cancer deaths. It scores very well on measurements of "preventable hospitalizations," coming in at No. 2. It gets its lowest ranking, 45th, in terms of geographic disparity and its small number of primary care doctors based on population.

The entire report is online at www.americashealthrankings.org.

E-mail: Lois@desnews.com