Morgan is Utah’s healthiest county
Rankings • Salt Lake County has the worst air quality.
Published: April 3, 2012 07:46AM
Updated: August 5, 2012 11:31PM

Want to live long and well?

Move to Utah’s northern mountain valleys.

Residents in Morgan County have the best health in the state, according to a new ranking released Tuesday.

They log the state’s fewest premature deaths, report some of the best mental health and have lowest percentage of babies born too small.

They also rank high on the behaviors that lead to better health: Residents have some of the lowest rates in the state of smoking, adult obesity, childhood poverty, single-parent households, violent crime and most have health insurance.

Morgan County is followed by Cache, Utah, Summit, and Davis as the state’s top five healthiest counties, according to the third annual County Health Rankings from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Utah’s five counties in the poorest health are Carbon, Sevier, Duchesne, Emery, and Uintah.

This year, the groups are encouraging community leaders, advocates and residents to use the data to improve their counties’ well-being. Their interactive website offers “roadmaps” for planning such efforts.

The report considers Carbon County the state’s least healthy. The report said its residents lost 10,000 years to premature death — defined as before age 75, between 2006 and 2008.

That’s more than double the 3,800 years lost in Morgan County. Nearly 1 in 5 Carbon adults reported being in fair and poor health, compared to 4 percent in Morgan. And 9.5 percent of babies were born at a low birth weight — putting them at risk of poor future health and even premature death. In Morgan, 5 percent were born weighing less than 5 lbs. 8 oz.

“I believe that they’re the most healthy in the state because they choose to be,” said Gary House, director of the Weber-Morgan Health Department, pointing to such factors as low smoking, obesity and teen pregnancy rates. The farming community is quickly becoming a bedroom county for professionals who work along the Wasatch Front he said.

Wealth and education lead to better health. But improving those socioeconomic factors are difficult, House notes. He said the way to improve the health of adjacent Weber County is to “find ways to educate people to lift them out of poverty. It’s easier said than done.”

The report evaluates counties in two areas: Health outcomes, which included premature death and low birth weights, and influential health factors. Those include behaviors, such as smoking, along with access to care, the environment and social and economic data.

To assess the counties’ physical environment, the report examines air quality and tallies recreation spots, supermarkets, farmer’s markets and fast food restaurants.

Salt Lake County has the state’s worst annual air quality, with 20 days of high levels of ozone and 11 days of air with high counts of fine particulate matter in 2007. Ambient air pollution is connected to decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis, asthma, and other pulmonary woes.

The 789 fast food outlets in Salt Lake County were 59 percent of the area’s eateries. It ranked 17th for health factors and 12th for health outcomes.

Its weaknesses include: 13 percent of adults reports fair or poor health; 6,100 years of potential life lost to premature death; 7 percent of babies born at low birth weight; and a 12 percent adult smoking rate.

The counties with the poorest rankings for health factors are on Utah’s eastern border. San Juan County, with high unemployment and poor access to health care, was the worst, joined by Uintah, Grand and Duchesne in the bottom four.

Daggett, Piute and Rich Counties were not included in the rankings, due to unreliable or missing data.

hmay@sltrib.com

Sort the county rankings yourself

O An interactive website for the 2012 County Health Rankings can sort the many ranked health factors and gives report cards on counties, along with action plans for improvement. Visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.