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FILE— Earlier this week, Get Healthy Utah held its stakeholder meeting to introduce the first-of-its-kind study of Utahns' attitudes and values concerning active living and a healthy diet.

Disclosure: Greg Bell is chairman of Get Healthy Utah.

You probably haven’t heard about Get Healthy Utah, but you will. Earlier this week, Get Healthy Utah held its stakeholder meeting to introduce the first-of-its-kind study of Utahns' attitudes and values concerning active living and a healthy diet.

There is a scientific consensus that at least 60 percent of medical costs relate to unhealthy lifestyle choices. One extensive study concluded that “chronic diseases are now the major cause of death and disability worldwide. Three behaviors (poor diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use) contribute to four chronic diseases (cancer, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and pulmonary diseases such as asthma) that cause over 50 percent of all deaths worldwide.”

A human tragedy unfolds before us as we see people dying years earlier than they should and seriously impairing their quality of life — even from childhood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated, “The percentage of children with obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. Today, about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity.” Pause over that: one in five of our children is obese, meaning at least 30 percent over normal weight. Americans’ sedentary lifestyle and over-eating are literally killing us — and our children.

Get Healthy Utah was formed to address this growing public health problem. It embraces a coalition of dozens of organizations all intent on assisting Utahns to create a culture of good health through active lifestyles and healthy eating.

Get Healthy Utah’s health and wellness experts thought they already understood the problems and barriers to helping Utahns eat well and live a more active lifestyle. But our advisers said, Not so fast!

In the 1990s, our mentor, Robert Grow and his talented staff at Envision Utah, faced a different set of complex problems. Utah confronted spiraling population growth, sharply increased land and water consumption and paralyzing traffic congestion. Residential lot sizes had doubled in 30 years. In tackling Utah’s growth challenges, Envision Utah first asked Utah residents what this new urban sprawl threatened in the Utah they loved. What were they worried about losing? The answers not only helped Envision Utah understand the problems, but also distilled Utahns’ core values about their home, and provided the vocabulary with which to communicate with Utahns on this subject.

Envision Utah retained Hearts+Minds Strategies, a company that evolved from companies formed by legendary Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin. Wirthlin brought values-based or qualitative polling to public opinion research. Wirthlin went beyond who voters favored. He delved into the values these voters held most dear and how candidates spoke to their values. In that tradition, Hearts+Minds Strategies “uncovers how people think, feel and make decisions [and] how individual and societal values influence decision-making.”

Envision Utah got tens of thousands of Utahns to participate in developing preferred scenarios for Utah’s inevitable growth. They found great sympathy for a broad range of housing options, and intriguingly, deep support for a robust public transit system. Traffic congestion has diminished, air quality is better and average residential lot sizes have been cut in half, taking us back to 1960s era lot sizes. Much of the credit for that belongs to Envision Utah.

Get Healthy Utah retained Hearts+Minds Strategies and Envision Utah to conduct the first-of-its-kind Utah-specific values study to find Utahns' attitudes about healthy eating and active living. The values study contained some surprises. Utahns underestimate the extent of obesity and seriously overweight among our state’s citizens and often failed to see the connection between obesity and poor health and chronic health conditions like diabetes and impaired mobility and activity. Not surprisingly, we also found that many people are confused about what constitutes a healthy diet.

We have a lot to do to help Utahns live a healthier lifestyle. Get Healthy Utah is becoming an important voice advocating for public health policies and personal health choices that will allow our citizens to live the healthiest, longest and most enjoyable lives possible.