Utah legislative districts show variable health outcomes

The Utah Department of Health’s Office of Health Disparities recently released an annual report detailing health trends and challenges by legislative district. The 2019 report shows several interesting trends across Utah’s 29 Senate districts and 75 House districts. 

The report is a result of a 2018 legislative session request to document the differences in health outcomes by district. The goal of the report is to demonstrate that not all Utahns experience health care the same, and not all districts are impacted by the same health challenges. 

The report ranks small groups, or areas that have a low population, and are either fully, or partially in one particular legislative district. 

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The report uses a Health Improvement Index (HII) to determine how overall health in individual districts has developed. The index uses nine key health indicators: 

  1. Population aged ≥25 years with <9 years of education, % 
  2.  Population aged ≥25 years with at least a high school diploma, %
  3.  Median family income, $ 
  4.  Income disparity 
  5.  Owner-occupied housing units, % (home ownership rate)
  6.  Civilian labor force population aged ≥16 years unemployed, % (unemployment rate) 
  7.  Families below poverty level, %
  8.  Population below 150% of the poverty threshold, % 
  9.  Single-parent households with children aged <18 years, %

Based on these indicators, areas of Utah are ranked and characterized into groups: very low, low, average, high, very high. The higher the group, the more improvement the area needs. 

Here are some standout trends: 

Senate District 1 has a need for improvement in health outcomes. Nearly all of their small groups indicated a high, or very high HII index ranking. The district has high infant mortality rates, a lower than average lifespan, and a much higher percentage of the population that reports having poor, or fair health compared to the state average. Additionally, the rate of diabetes and the smoking rates in this district are much higher than the state average. 

Senate District 11, on the other hand, demonstrates opposite trends than those witnessed in district 1. All small group rankings are either low, or very low and their district rankings are generally better than the statewide averages. While Utah’s average infant mortality rate is 5.2, for example, areas of SD 11 report rates as low as 2.8 percent. Interestingly, the rate of mental health issues, and the average suicide rates in this district are either equal to, or above the state average. 

While Senate Districts 1 and 11 showed dramatic differences demographically between rural and urban areas, many Senate Districts are variable in health outcomes. Senate District 20, for example, has small group rankings that range from very high, to very low. This demonstrates that not all parts of this district have the same health outcomes. 

In the more urban and downtown areas of Senate District 20, the rate of mental health issues, suicide rates, and rates of smoking are higher than in other areas of the district. These areas have higher HII rankings as well. 

Utah House Districts tell an even more variable health outcome story. This is likely due to the large geographic areas that these districts represent. 

In House District 4, half of the residents are in low need of health improvement, while the other half is ranked as needing a high level of improvement. The district’s infant mortality rates demonstrate both some of the lowest and highest in the state. Rates of smoking follow a similar pattern. 

House District 29 has a high rate of variability as well — each small group received a different HII ranking. The rate of drug use, drug poisoning deaths, and suicides in this district demonstrate some of the highest and lowest rates across the state. 

The health disparities report demonstrates a wide-range of health care index rankings by legislative district. These individual data points will be used by legislators during session to create health care policy specific to the needs of their district. 

Factors like median income levels, education attainment, family size, and ethnic makeup of these districts all impact the overall health outcomes, and the variation in health disparities seen in this report.