Nearly one-fifth of all health insurance claims submitted to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Utah are for illnesses or injuries that could have been prevented, a recent company study showed.

"This amounts to a significant sum of money," said Dr. W. Knox Fitzpatrick Jr., vice president of medical affairs. Blue Cross and Blue Shield, in fact, paid out more than $166 million in claims in 1987 alone."If we did not have to pay for illnesses that could be prevented with simple changes in people's lifestyles, we would have saved our subscribers somewhere between $30 million and $35 million."

Fitzpatrick cited smoking as an excellent example of lifestyle habits causing unnecessary expense. A person can drastically reduce even eliminate lung cancer, the risk of heart attack at an early age, high blood pressure and other serious health problems by simply not smoking, following a proper diet and exercising regularly, he said.