SALT LAKE CITY -- When it comes to adult smoking, binge drinking, cancer death rates, physical activity and adult diabetes, Utah is setting a great example for the rest of the nation.
But the state isn't doing as well as it should in other areas, such as immunizations, infectious disease rates and access to primary care physicians.
The United Health Care Foundation released its 23rd annual America's Health Ratings report recently, calling Utah the seventh-healthiest state in the nation.
According to the report, Utah has the lowest adult smoking rate in the nation, at 11.8 percent. It also has the lowest prevalence of adult diabetes, at 6.7 percent, and the third-lowest rate of binge drinking. The state also has the lowest rate of cancer deaths, at 128.6 per 100,000, and the second-highest percentage of residents who stay physically active.
"We're pleased to continue on a course of healthy behaviors, like exercising and avoiding smoking and binge drinking," said Utah Department of Health 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."
Weber-Morgan Health Department Executive Director Gary House said the ranking clearly demonstrates the state's culture where personal and community health are paramount.
"People are making wise personal lifestyle choices to prevent or reduce childhood and adult obesity, tobacco and alcohol use, and to take advantage of the excellent health care services available to them," House said.
Many variables contribute to an infectious disease outbreak, House said. Without adequate documentation or research, perhaps the greatest risk factor is the numerous opportunities for close, person-to-person contact for disease exposure and transmission.
The report shows Utah had a 2 percent increase in immunization coverage among children 19 months to 35 months old. However, the state also ranks 39th in the rate of infectious diseases. The state also showed a 21 percent drop in preventable hospitalizations among Medicare enrollees since 2007.
According to the report, advances in medicine are keeping Americans alive longer. However, unhealthy behavior and preventable illness threaten quality of life. While cardiovascular, cancer and premature deaths have declined since 1990, Americans are experiencing troubling levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and sedentary behavior.
Although Utah has the lowest prevalence of adult diabetes in the nation, 130,000 adults still have the disease across the state. And while the state seems to be doing well with obesity, ranking sixth-lowest in the nation, experts say the numbers can be deceiving. More than 30 percent of the state's non-Hispanic Native Americans and more than 29 percent of Hispanics are obese.
"Right now, one in every four Utahns is obese, and the number is growing," said UDOH Deputy Director Dr. Robert Rolfs. "Our eating habits, especially the empty sugar calories we consume, are killing us."
Obesity continues to be at an epidemic level in the country, according to the report, and is the fastest-growing health challenge confronting the nation. The national median of obese adults is 27.8 percent, meaning more than 66 million adults are obese. That's more than the entire population of the United Kingdom. Even in the least obese state, Colorado, more than 20 percent of the population is obese. Sedentary lifestyles and poor diet choices continue to be the driving force behind the problem.
The report also showed Utah in 29th place when it comes to public health funding. The state spends an average of $67 per resident. In contrast, the No.1 state, Vermont, spends $236 per person.