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SALT LAKE CITY — Health officials in Utah have long had the goal of becoming the healthiest state in the nation, and this year, it is one step closer.
Utah again moved up in the United Health Foundation's America's Health Rankings, as it has since 2012, landing in fifth place among other states this year. Utah Department of Health Director David Patton said it is something "Utah should be proud of."
"It's evidence that our strong public health and health care systems are doing right by the people of our state," he said.
Utah ranked well in a number of key health indicators, including the nation's lowest prevalence of smoking and cancer deaths, the lowest percentage of children in poverty and a low rate of obesity, binge drinking and preventable hospitalizations, according to the latest rankings that were released Wednesday.
More than 75 percent of Utah's children are immunized, which helps the state's overall ranking, though adolescent immunization rates (about 56 percent) wane in comparison, according to the report.
Utahns also seem to be eating a good number of fruits and vegetables, but about 32 percent of adults report sleeping less than seven hours a day, on average. More than half of adults, however, report "very good" or "excellent" health, the report states.
The state struggles with a high rate of drug-related deaths, low immunization coverage among teens and a limited availability of primary care physicians for the population, as Utah has just over 90 per 100,000 population.
The annual state-by-state analysis gives Utah somewhat poor marks for having 14.2 percent of the population uninsured, as well as for its dollars spent on public health. The top state, Alaska, budgets more than three times ($219) what Utah spends per capita ($67).
All of us need to continue addressing unhealthy behaviors and being leaders in our families, among our friends, at our workplaces and in our communities.
Utah ranks 46th for a high number of prescription drug overdose deaths; 45th for cases of whooping cough; and 39th in the country for air pollution.
Though some behaviors are getting better, Patton said Utah's strong points aren't infallible, as obesity and physical inactivity rates are "trending upward."
"Obesity can lead to several chronic, deadly diseases," he said, adding, "it's entirely preventable and remains one of the top public health challenges of our time."
The United Health Foundation, which aims to impact state policymakers and other officials, reports that in the 25 years it has been publishing the report, it has seen "significant declines in premature death, infant mortality, cancer and cardiovascular deaths, as well as declines in smoking," nationwide. It tallies core measures of health based on a number of statistics collected annually by state and national sources.
Life expectancy of Americans, the report states, is also at an all-time high, at 78.8 years.
Matching Patton's concern for climbing obesity rates, however, the United Health Foundation report states that since tracking health behaviors began in 1990, obesity rates across the country have increased 153 percent, from 11.6 percent to 29.4 percent of adults.
"We applaud the substantial gains, but we must continue to focus on combatting rising rates of chronic illness that threaten quality of life," the report states. "All of us need to continue addressing unhealthy behaviors and being leaders in our families, among our friends, at our workplaces and in our communities if we want to make continued and much-needed progress against these chronic health conditions."
Top 5 healthiest states
The report ranks Hawaii as the healthiest state and Vermont is second, each for the third consecutive year. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Utah rounded out the top five. Utah has spent the past two years as sixth healthiest.
Wyoming, Idaho, Iowa, Delaware and Maine each dropped in the rankings, for various reasons, and Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Oklahoma complete the bottom five states, according to the report.
The entire report, as well as other health statistics, can be found online, at www.americashealthrankings.org.
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