Morgan again leads rankings as healthiest county in Utah

Published: Wednesday, March 30 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — For the second year in a row, Morgan County residents have been ranked the "healthiest in the state," with the highest standard of living and longest length of life.

The County Health Rankings report — which has also twice put Carbon County at the bottom of the list — compares counties across the state by various health outcomes, including the rate of people dying before age 75, the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health, the number of days people miss work and the rate of low birth weight infants.

Numbers were released Wednesday showed little change from last year's results.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, who conducted the nationwide study, also look at people's health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environments. Counties in Utah continually rank higher than the national average due to healthier lifestyles overall.

Rates of adult smoking, adult obesity, excessive drinking, teenage births, the number of uninsured adults, availability of primary care providers, high school graduation rates, poverty and community safety were among the many health factors analyzed for the annual report. Access to healthy foods and air pollution levels were also considered, which helped Morgan County inch higher in the rankings, said Weber-Morgan Health Department spokeswoman Lori Buttars.

"They are in their own little, secluded world with great places to exercise and plenty of access to healthy food," she said. "Of course, there is less pollution in the area as well."

Just 5 percent of Morgan's residents reported ailing health, compared to 20 percent in Carbon County. The rate of premature death in Carbon County is more than three times that in Morgan.

Health officials couldn't identify the exact difference between the two counties, except that three times more people smoke in Carbon County than in Morgan. And the central Utah area is generally less wealthy, with 16 percent of children in Carbon County living in poverty.

Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine, said the rankings are meant to "help counties see what is affecting the health of their residents" so that appropriate action can be taken to remove potential barriers to good health.

The new reports come in the same month that the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranked Utah the 8th-healthiest state in the nation. That is down from a similar report in 2009, which put Utah second behind Hawaii. Results show that Utah is not necessarily growing more unhealthy, but other states are becoming more healthy.

Buttars said being the healthiest county in the state is "an honor" that is definitely worth working to keep.

According to this year's rankings, the 10 healthiest counties in Utah, starting with the most healthy, are Morgan, Cache, Utah, Summit, Davis, Wasatch, Grand, Washington, Box Elder and Wayne. The 10 counties in poorest health, starting with the least healthy, are Carbon, Duchesne, Sevier, Uintah, Emery, Juab, Garfield, Kane, Beaver and Tooele.

The healthiest of Utah's 26 ranked counties are clustered in the north of the state, near Salt Lake, which is ranked 11th, down from 9th place last year, while the least health counties are primarily in central Utah.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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