Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Many adults have a hard time finding time to exercise, and the trend seems to be continuing in Utah's youths.
But for those who do, health officials say, the payout is big.
"It's one of the greatest returns in terms of health over a lifetime, making sure that kids have a good start," said Dr. Robert Rolfs, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health.
Healthy decisions begin before birth, Rolfs said, and parents and other adults can do a lot for a child's long-term success by being an example and making good decisions themselves.
"Most (teenagers) don't have physical barriers to do things that are active," he said. "A lot of opportunities for physical activity at that age are just going out and having fun."
But about 50 percent of adolescents in the state don't get as much as an hour of physical activity a day, according to the 23rd annual United Health Foundation's America's Health Rankings report released Tuesday.
For the third straight year, however, Utah is slotted as the seventh healthiest state in the nation.
The report cites Utah's smoking and binge drinking rates as some of the lowest in the country, as well as the lowest prevalence of adult diabetes and a significant drop in preventable hospitalizations since 2007, as improvements for the state.
Utah also boasts the lowest rate of cancer deaths and a low incidence of violent crime, according to the report.
The state is the sixth least fat state, with a low number of obese residents when compared with the rest of the nation, and it ranks second for its percentage of residents who are physically active. But Rolfs said the numbers can be deceiving.
"Right now, one in every four Utahns is obese, and the number goes up every year," he said. "Our eating habits, especially the empty sugar calories we consume, are killing us."
Andrea Magness, of Clinton, came to a similar conclusion and decided she needed to be healthier to keep up with her two vibrant sons, ages 5 and 8.
Magness joined a gym, attended early morning fitness classes and found a great online method, www.emeals.com, to help her come up with healthy food options for her family.
Not only is her family of four healthier, they spend less money on eating out and waste less of what they buy from the grocery store each week, even while juggling busy afternoon schedules running between different sporting events that used to lead to many frantic, fast-food meals.
It's been a couple of months since they made the effort to be healthier, but Magness says she's already noticed a difference in her kids. One eats more variety and is less picky about food, and the other has the energy he needs to play hours of indoor and outdoor soccer competitively.
"He has to have energy, and if he doesn't eat right, he doesn't have the energy," she said.
The young boys also work out in their own ways because they know their mom is going to the gym.
"It isn't about losing weight or being skinny," Magness said. "I want to be a good role model to them. I want them to know that being healthy is a better lifestyle and that it makes you happy and those around you happy."
In addition to making healthy decisions about daily life, Magness, 32, said she feels better, sleeps better and is more energetic. She finds herself wanting to do more active things and still gets to indulge in her love of cooking.
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