Which parts of Utah have the healthiest teens? New report has the answer

Posted at 4:42 PM, Dec 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-11 00:01:58-05

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Department of Health has released a new study that highlights which parts of Utah have the healthiest teens.

The report looked at 29 indicators of health across local health districts, including things like screen time, obesity, cigarette smoking, e-cigarette use, diabetes, texting while driving and feeling sad or hopeless.

Michael Friedrichs, an Epidemiologist at the health department, stated in the press release that the study is the first of its kind they’ve ever done.

“This is the first time we've been able to look at adolescent health by geography,” he stated. “It’s exciting and incredibly important because school administrators, local health leaders and parents can now better identify the health and safety needs of this population.”

The study determined health problems by area. The Weber-Morgan Health District, for example, did not have any indicators that were better than the state rate, and they had 11 indicators that were worse than the state rate. Friedrichs said the indicators in the study cover a variety of issues.

"Tobacco use, e-cigarettes, asthma programs, mental health, suicide, texting and driving, obesity," he said.

It was a different story in the Utah County Health District, where only three of the indicators were worse than the state rate—asthma management, driver talking on a cell phone and driver texting.

According to the study, 65.4 percent of teenagers in the Weber-Morgan district text while driving, compared to adolescents in Bear River and Tooele, where the total is less than 55 percent. The state average is 61.3 percent, and both Wasatch and Utah Counties were higher than that average.

"There are trends," Friedrichs said. "The talking on phones while driving, or texting while driving, was more prevalent in the urban counties."

The study also examined lifestyle factors, like family meal time. Nearly 70 percent of 8th graders reported they eat with their families at dinner five days a week, but only 17 percent of Utah's youth report they get enough exercise--a ranking that puts Utah at the low-end of the spectrum compared to other states.

Friedrichs said the new numbers are invaluable for schools, communities and parents.

"Hopefully this will be utilized and really help communities to target and identify solutions that fit their communities," he said.

The 2013 Adolescent Health Report used data from the Prevention Needs Assessment survey, which samples students in grades 8, 10 and 12.

According to the press release from the Utah Department of Health, there were several portions of the report that stood out.

• Salt Lake County and Tooele County Health Districts had significantly higher rates of psychological distress, making a suicide plan, and attempting suicide compared to the state.
• One in four Utah students reported having been threatened or harassed over the Internet, by email, or by someone using a cell phone, with the highest prevalence seen in Salt Lake County Health District at 26.8%.
• At 5.8%, the prevalence of current use of e-cigarettes is higher among Utah students than current cigarette smoking (3.9%). In Weber-Morgan Health District, 20% of the students reported current e-cigarette use.
• Adolescents in Utah County (65.0%), Wasatch (65.2%), and Weber-Morgan (65.4%) Local Health Districts reported significantly higher rates of riding in a car with a driver who was texting compared to the state (61.3%).
• Central, Southeastern, Southwest, Tooele County, and TriCounty adolescents reported significantly lower seat belt use compared to the state.

Heather Borski with the Utah Department of Health came to the FOX 13 News Studio Wednesday to discuss the report’s findings, see the video below for her comments.

To view the complete report, click here.