‘St. George is doing really well’: Study names Utah healthiest state in the US

Stock image by oatawa/iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A recent study by LetsGetChecked named Utah the healthiest state in the U.S. by comparing all 50 states in a number of health areas. When looking at factors such as economics and welfare, it’s no wonder that Utah takes the cake, state health experts say.

A resident takes an exercise walk on the Halfway Washington Trail near the corner of Sunset and Dixie Downs in St. George, Utah, on April 17, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

LetsGetChecked, a health insights company based out of the United Kingdom, published the study after collecting data from government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control, and represents statistics from 2016 – 2019 according to a press release from LetsGetChecked. The study ranked each state in overall health by scoring them in alcoholism, smoking, obesity, diabetes, inactivity, hypertension, sexually transmitted diseases and depression. The higher the score in each factor, the healthier the state is. 

Utah placed 47th in alcoholism, 50th in smoking, 46th in obesity, 49th in diabetes, 49th in inactivity, 50th in hypertension, 45th in STDs and third in depression, claiming first place in overall health. The state’s scores in those areas did not come as a surprise, said David Heaton, spokesman for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. 

“Our standing in those categories appear accurate and Utah typically ranks well in health-related categories,” Heaton said. 

Josh Redd, owner and founder of RedRiver Health and Wellness Center, said that there are a number of factors that contribute to Utah’s high ranking. A graduate of John’s Hopkins University’s public health program, Redd teaches wellness classes around the country in addition to running RedRiver clinics across the Western U.S. Things like religion, weather, socioeconomics and pollution should all be considered when talking about Utah’s overall health, he said. 

The biggest factor when it comes to overall health is Utah’s ability to take care of those who fall below the poverty line, Redd said. Areas that have a wider wage gap like Louisiana, which was ranked the least healthy state in the country tend to score worse in health care. Utah’s welfare system is largely designed around The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which provides its members with basic necessities, Redd said. He added that the word of wisdom encourages a healthier lifestyle which doesn’t influence other parts of the country as much. 

A comparison of Utah with other states as far as health, including a side-by-side comparrison between the healthiest state, Utah, and the unhealthiest, Louisiana. | Graphic courtesy of LetsGetChecked, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“You can’t really rank Utah as being the number one healthiest state in the country without taking into account the word of wisdom,” Redd said. “And in Utah we have a lot of fun things to do outdoors. When you take that into consideration with the church, a lot of its members don’t smoke, don’t drink, they eat healthy. These members are paying dividends now more than ever with COVID.”

While the coronavirus has taken an unprecedented toll on the world, and Utah has not been immune, Redd said that the data reflects a lower risk of the virus in places like St. George because of Utahns’ active lifestyles and opportunities to isolate themselves outdoors.

“Even in Utah, I think St. George is doing really well,” Redd said. “Things are spread out, there’s parks and places you can hike, whereas in other cities and other states, they have environmental toxins up the yin-yang.”  

Up until this week, according to Georgia Tech’s COVID-19 risk assessment study, there had been a higher risk in St. George of being with someone infected with the coronavirus in a room with 10 people. That changed just this week with a large surge in Los Angeles. As of Sunday, there was a 38% risk of being near an infected person in St. George and a 46% chance in Los Angeles. The transmission chance is still lower in the nearest large cities of Las Vegas (35%), Phoenix (34%) and Salt Lake City (34%).

The only area where Utah scored low was depression, which Redd said is due to a high likelihood of postpartum depression and also related to many people feeling blue when the weather turns bad. 

Photo by Chinnapong/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“We look at things a lot differently now in ways that most people don’t even think about,” he said. “We live in a population where there’s a higher number of children, which induces a higher likelihood of postpartum depression…Another thing is four months out of the year, we have clouds and snow and not great weather.”

Colorado was ranked the second healthiest state in the country, barely behind Utah in smoking, obesity and inactivity. Utah’s leading scores did not surprise Redd because Utahns tend to be concerned with preventative health care more than other populations, he said. 

“Utahns are super hardcore when it comes to preventative health,” Redd said. “They pay a ton of attention, time and resources into preventative health. They’re the ones that are going to take care of their health before something happens. They would rather do something than sit and take a medication.”

Weekend Editor/reporter Chris Reed contributed to this story.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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