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Wasatch pops into Utah's five healthiest counties

Published March 20, 2013 10:29 am

Public health • Agencies urge states to use the data to set priorities for programs and spending.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Wasatch County has jumped up four spots in annual rankings to become one of Utah's top five healthiest counties, disrupting a three-year lock by Morgan, Cache, Utah, Summit and Davis counties.

Morgan County is again Utah's healthiest county, according to the fourth annual County Health Rankings compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a Princeton, N.J.-based health care nonprofit, and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The report tallies statistics on 25 factors that influence health, including rates of smoking, obesity, teen births, and high school and college attendance. It also examines the percentages of children living in single parent households and childhood poverty rates, along with access to physicians and dentists and access to healthy foods.

In the first three reports, Cache, Utah, Summit and Davis Counties remained in Utah's top 5, changing only slightlyin order each year. This year, Davis County slipped from 5th place to 6th place, making room for Wasatch County to move into fourth place, up from eighth place in 2012.

"We're very proud of the ranking, but we also acknowledged that it's not just the health department making a difference," Wasatch County's Community Health Division Director Christopher Smoot said. "Community health is a multi-faceted thing and we have good partnerships with our hospitals, clinics, doctors and the general public. They seem really open to improving their health."

In recent years the health department has made a concerted effort to have a strong presence at events throughout the community to make sure that critical health information reaches citizens, Smoot said.

"One of my goals is to empower people to make healthy choices in their lives," he said. "We want people to think about their health every day."

Wasatch County's improved ranking could be attributed to its lower rates of premature deaths, sexually transmitted diseases, teen births and violent crime — all of which improved over data from previous years and are at rates lower than nearly every statistical average for Utah and the nation.

According to the report, Wasatch County lost 4,759 years to premature deaths, which is defined as death before age 75. The number is more than 1,600 lower than the data from the previous year. It's also more than 1,100 years better than the 5,869 years lost for Utah as a whole and the average 5,317 years lost per county nationwide.

The county's rate of reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases was 123 per every 100,000 people, a number significantly lower than Utah's rate of 242. The national rate is 92 per every 100,000 people.

Wasatch County also improved its teen birth rate from 34 per every 1,000 births to 31. Statewide, Utah's rate is 32 and the national rate is 21.

The county finds the data useful in helping its health workers identify and target areas of concern, not all of which were previously identified, Smoot said.

"One thing I'm going to follow up on is our environmental health scores," Smoot said. "The drinking water safety numbers show that 61 percent of our residents reported issues or problems. That's a surprise to me. We need to find out why."

Utah's most populous county, Salt Lake, was ranked 11th in the state, down a notch from last year.

The data shows Salt Lake County lost 6,179 years to premature death, reported 343 sexually transmitted diseases per every 100,000 and 38 teen births per every 1,000.

Utah's three counties in the poorest health are the same as last year: Carbon at the bottom, followed by Sevier and Duchesne.

Carbon County's rate of premature deaths led to 8,924 lost years, nearly twice that of Wasatch County.

The data also found Carbon county had 168 cases of sexually transmitted diseases per every 100,000 people and a teen birthrate of 42 per every 1,000.

Daggett and Rich counties were not included in the rankings.

jdobner@sltrib.com