Utah ranks 15th when it comes to women's health. But it, like most of the nation, gets an "unsatisfactory" rating in a national report released today.

"Making the Grade on Women's Health: A National Study and State-by-State Report Card" looks primarily at benchmarks established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in its Healthy People 2010 initiative. And with the target year nearing, progress has been painfully slow and in some cases nonexistent, according to Judy Waxman, vice president for health of the National Women's Law Center, which produced the annual report with the Oregon Health and Science University.

"'Making the Grade' finds as each year passes, states are falling further behind in the quest to reach national goals for women's health," Waxman said in a national telephone briefing on the report. "There's some progress in adopting policies that could advance women's health. But there's still a long way to go and, once in place, it takes awhile to impact health status. ... We should move more quickly."

Only three of 27 benchmarks have improved significantly nationwide — the percentage of women over 40 who receive regular mammograms, the percent who see a dentist each year and those who are screened at 50 and older for colorectal cancer, according Dr. Michelle Berlin, director of the Center for Excellence in Women's Health at the Oregon university. And only on the annual dental visits do states consistently hit the mark.

She said the researchers found wide variation among the states. "And health disparities are still an enormous problem in the U.S."

Nine states do meet the majority of the goals, Waxman said. Utah is not one of them. Those farthest behind are Idaho and North and South Dakota. She called efforts nationwide "piecemeal and inconsistent" and noted that, particularly in terms of preventive health care measures, the record is "mixed."

Among Utah's successes, the Beehive State is No. 1 in terms of lung cancer, with the lowest rate, and No. 3 for heart disease. It also ranks well in terms of breast cancer deaths. It has the lowest smoking rate, is best when it comes to high blood pressure and is third-best for its low number of binge-drinking women. In maternal mortality counts, Utah is the best. It also received an S- (just below satisfactory) for the number of women who get no leisure-time physical activity, at about 20 percent.

On the other hand, Utah is dead last for cholesterol screening for women. It has the biggest wage gap and is the worst when it comes to chlamydia, the report says. The state also was unsatisfactory or failed in categories including pap smears, mammography, obesity, getting enough fruits and vegetables, and first trimester prenatal care, although the rate is 80.3 percent.

The entire report is online at hrc.nwlc.org.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com