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When It Comes To Health In Utah, Counties Show Wide Variation

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute
The distribution of Utah's health outcomes, or a measure of how long people live and how healthy people feel.

A new report out this week measures the health of every county in the nation. Overall, researchers said Utah compares well, but at the county level, there are health disparities. 

The report sets up a ranking of counties based on factors from rates of smoking and obesity, to mental health providers, to high school graduation and air pollution. The counties with the best overall health are along the Wasatch Mountains with Morgan County topping the list. The least healthy are in rural Utah, with Carbon County ranked last.

Kate Konkle is a researcher with the University of Wisconsin, where the report was done, along with the health philanthropy, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to Konkle an important measurement is children living in poverty since that can create long-term health disparities. Morgan County has just four percent of children living in poverty while Piute County has 35 percent.  

"That’s a really significant range. More than nine times the number of children living in poverty," she said.  

Credit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute
A map that appears in the report showing the "overall rankings of health factors" in Utah.

The report also shows health disparities split between rural and urban parts of the state. A map shows counties with the best health concentrated around the north-central part of the state. By contrast, counties in southern and eastern Utah have the poorest health.

Konkle said nationally, rural counties tend to be less healthy, in part because they’ve been slower to rebound from the great recession.

"So the economic opportunities in rural communities sometimes aren’t as great. Again we know that those are economics and education can both be big contributors to health." 

She says rural communities typically don’t have the same resources to promote health as urban and suburban communities.

Overall, Konkle said there are lots of factors that go into creating these snapshots, both good and bad for a given area. Data to make the rankings came from the census and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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