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Utah's health strong but problems like syphilis, diabetes remain

Published March 12, 2012 2:56 pm

Federal program • State misses its goals on diabetes, syphilis and deaths after childbirth.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Though Utah can take pride in its low smoking rate and high proportion of breastfeeding moms, the state faces challenges with the skyrocketing number of syphilis cases, the explosion of diabetes and women who die after giving birth.

The final report on Utah's Healthy People 2010 goals, a national initiative, was released Monday, highlighting the state's successes and failures over the past decade. The state chose 105 objectives from a longer list as markers to improve and measure residents' health. The national program has existed for three decades, allowing officials to track how well prevention works.

Some of Utah's challenges in the most recent report reflect U.S. trends, such as the rise in maternal deaths.

"I don't think they have definitive reasons but some of what's been proposed are increases in obesity and chronic health conditions," said Laurie Baksh, manager of the state's maternal and infant health program. The state targeted 4.3 deaths per 100,000 live births but had a rate of 15.3 in 2010.

Embolisms, heart conditions and hemorrhages were the leading causes of death for women during pregnancy or within a year after delivery between 1995 and 2008. But chronic conditions such as diabetes, at epidemic proportions in Utah and across the country, can make women more vulnerable.

The state's target for diabetes was 25 cases per 1,000 adults but it was nearly three times that — 72 — in 2010.

"It is a disease that requires constant attention," said Christine Weiss, a state health program specialist. "But we try to provide a lot of hope that this disease can be managed and controlled."

Among sexually transmitted diseases, the rate of gonorrhea is low in Utah — 10.9 cases versus the state's target of 19 per 100,000 — but syphilis has spiked here. The state had a 94 percent increase from 2009 to 2010, going from 33 to 65 cases during those years. The majority of cases involved men having sex with men.

Health officials continue to target education about STDs, speaking to populations at detention centers and substance abuse treatment locations. That education also may involve testing, leading to more identification of disease.

Whether STD rates will be affected by state legislators' recent decision to limit Utah sex education under HB363 remains to be seen.

"We would prefer to do more education but this will prevent us from going into the schools and doing any type of education about STDs and HIV," said Lynn Meinor, manager of the communicable disease prevention program at the Utah Department of Health.

Gov. Gary Herbert has not yet indicated whether he will sign or veto HB363, which prohibits instruction on contraceptive use during sex education classes and allows schools to drop such classes.

jlyon@sltrib.com

How well is Utah doing?

Struggling in some areas, the state has excelled in others. Highlights include the low rate of asthma hospitalizations of children, at only 7.9 per 10,000 compared with the goal of 17.3 per 10,000. More than 84 percent of women breastfed their babies compared with a goal of 75 percent. The new report will be posted at ibis.health.utah.gov/publications.