Get Healthy Utah: A Personal Perspective

December 5, 2016

Get Healthy Utah – just another cattle prod to get us to eat better, right. . . NO!

From inside Get Healthy Utah I can say without reservation that the intent is pure, worthy, and should be considered: it is what it suggests–educational.  Utahns clearly need to become healthier or pay the price, a huge price.

Utah has a healthy culture, and one would get the impression that we are a pretty healthy lot.  However, if one peels back the surface a bit, a different story may be seen.  In September 2015, Utah Leaders for Health (the organization that would become Get Healthy Utah) held a retreat attended by many of Utah’s leaders spanning a broad range of disciplines including business, insurance, healthcare (hospitals and other providers), academia, government and others.  The retreat was held to gauge the interest and concern among Utah’s leaders for the health of Utah’s citizens as well as to explore how to go about improving it.  Not surprisingly the meeting was very well attended and many ideas resulted and eventually, Get Healthy Utah was born.

In preparation for that retreat, the Utah Department of Health was asked to provide trend data, primarily on obesity and diabetes, in our state.  While these were not the only factors considered, it quickly became obvious that, if we will, we can do something about both.

The information presented looked out 35 years to 2050.  A long time out, yes, but not when considering an effort to change behavior on a mass scale. All in attendance were interested to note that while Utah’s trends were somewhat better than national trends, we are merely a few years behind, but our rates are clearly rocketing out of control. For example, the national rate for adult obesity is 30%, Utah’s adult obesity is slightly better at 26% (no cheering, right).  By the year 2050, Utah’s adult obesity rate is projected to increase to 46%, or 1,700,000 Utahns!  Again, no cheering. The projected cost for diabetes alone, in Utah, could increase to a whopping $1.8 billion dollars per year unless the trend is reversed.

Still somewhat in shock at the numbers, I walked out of the September retreat with a colleague.  I said, “Can you imagine someone looking at those numbers and saying, ‘I’m okay with that’?”

A very reputable study conducted in California(i) only a few years ago noted that just three behaviors contributed to four diseases which resulted to fifty percent of all deaths in the study area.  Think of it, 3 behaviors caused 50% of ALL deaths!  The three behaviors:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Tobacco use

We certainly do not want to characterize Utah as not having an issue with tobacco use; but we recognize that Utah has made progress in that area.  But poor nutrition and lack of physical activity are both areas where we can and must do better.  Yes we, you and I, all of us, can do better with our nutrition, and we can clearly “move” more.  Simply stated, that is the goal of Get Healthy Utah. Now I have already heard some say, “Well nobody is going to tell me what to eat!”  I would assume that this attitude is out there in abundance, and Get Healthy Utah understands.

No one is saying what you must eat or how much you exercise, or else.  Get Healthy Utah is an effort to inform.  When you get hit in the head with an out of bounds softball, you’d say, “I wish someone would have said ‘DUCK’”.  You decide for you.  But to do nothing, or to do just a little, so no one is too uncomfortable, is to leave us with future enormous healthcare costs well above those we have now and poor health for too many of us.  Again, you decide.

adult-diabetes adult-obesity

[i] County of San Diego, Health and Human Services

Agency, Public Health Services, Community Health Statistics Unit. (October,

2010). 3-4-50: Chronic Disease in San Diego County.