Utah ranks as 7th healthiest state according to report

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 11 2012 6:40 p.m. MST

Rolfs said individual commitment can only go so far and that some communities are limited in the lifestyles they promote, as it may not be safe for people to exercise outdoors, or healthy foods may be less accessible because of location or climate.

"Schools have challenges in finding time for physical education, and there's a lot of competition for kids' and adults' time," he said. "There's also an increasing number of ways to be entertained while sitting down, with all the available video games, iPhones, iPads and more."

The report, Rolfs said, is helpful to know where the state stands among other states, but looking around, he knows Utahns can do better.

Nationally, Vermont topped the list of healthiest states. Hawaii, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Connecticut also ranked ahead of Utah.

The least healthy states, according to the report, include Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Carolina and Alabama. The Southern states have consistently sunk to the bottom of the rankings, which are compiled using results from a telephone survey of nearly half a million households.

"It's as much an indicator of what the state is doing right as what it is doing wrong," Rolfs said.

Other states may just be worse in some of the categories, he said.

But Utah also has its struggles.

The report indicates that the Beehive State has a low ratio of primary care doctors to the population, especially in rural areas. And with an aging population, that problem could be compounded, Rolfs said.

Other low rankings for Utah include geographic disparities, as obesity, sedentary lifestyles and smoking are more prevalent among Native American and Hispanic populations across the state.

Utah's high school graduation rate fell from 83 percent in 2007 to 79.4 percent this year, putting it 19th in the nation. And in 29th place, Utah spends an average of $67 per resident for public health funding, whereas the No. 1 state, Hawaii, spends $236 per person.

"There's a lot of potential for improvement," Rolfs said.

Utah provides an environment in which residents can be active, he said, and it tends to draw individuals who participate in a variety of activities.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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