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The history of the Utah Partnership for Healthy Weight begins with a trip. Stan Parrish, a Utah business owner active in civic affairs, was asked to attend a March 2005 American Heart Association meeting in Los Angeles. There he heard David Kessler, the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, talk about the struggle to reduce tobacco use. Stan had an “aha” moment as he listened, realizing that obesity was an issue that could be successfully addressed in Utah. He returned and met with David Sundwall, MD, then Executive Director of the Utah Department of Health (UDOH), and sketched out a four-part vision for preventing and combating obesity:

Establish a statewide public-private partnership
Create a plan to serve as a starting point
Identify and fill resource gaps
Eliminate duplication of efforts

In May 2006, UDOH issued a report – Tipping the Scales Toward a Healthier Population: the Utah Blueprint to Promote Healthy Weight for Children, Youth, and Adults (the “Blueprint”). Representatives of a number of organizations met in September 2006 with Governor Huntsman to launch implementation of the Blueprint.

In January 2007 David Sundwall introduced Stan Parrish to Leon Hammond, a volunteer involved in obesity issues in Salt Lake County. Along with a small group of health professionals and business owners, they incorporated the Utah Partnership for Healthy Weight (UPHW) as the only Utah nonprofit organization focused on obesity and overweight. The initial UPHW partner organizations were those committed to implementing the Utah Blueprint.

A UPHW Research Committee was established, chaired by Prof. Glenn Richardson of the Department of Health Promotion and Education at the University of Utah. Prof. Richardson led the development of a proposed three-year project focusing on Magna, Utah, in 2008. This initiative was grounded in existing research about health improvement in communities, and in resiliency theory, which is based on the principle that people can overcome adversity and succeed despite challenges.

In mid-2009, EnergySolutions generously pledged $150,000 with which to develop and initiate the project; the University of Utah Health Science Center provided $200,000 of internal funding.

The project was named “Magnify Your Life” by the residents of Magna, Utah, and was launched in March 2010. University of Utah students and faculty brought a variety of health-promoting initiatives to Magna schools, community centers and churches. A series of health-promoting messages were shared with the community via DVDs and the Township website.

The original budget for Magnify Your Life was $2.4 million over three years. While the students and faculty who participated in Magnify Your Life learned much about promoting health, the project, which was carried out with only $350,000 and drew to a formal close in 2013. The project did not have the impact originally envisioned. But as a learning experience for the UPHW and our partners, it was a success, paving the way for recent developments.

In 2012, the Executive Director and Board of Directors considered whether the focus of the UPHW should be on preventing and combating obesity, or on promoting increased physical activity and improved nutrition. The response was that the focus should be on either physical activity alone, or physical activity and nutrition.

Shortly thereafter, UPHW Executive Director delivered his first guest lecture to BYU undergraduates studying health promotion and disease prevention. In response, the BYU Public Health Association, an undergraduate student group with more than 200 members, became a UPHW partner organization.

In March 2013, BYU faculty introduced the UPHW Executive Director to the graduate students who had developed Laugh Model, an innovative approach to health promotion and disease prevention with great potential to engage large numbers of Utahns in the challenging but rewarding task of becoming more physically active and eating as well as drinking more nutritiously.

Today the UPHW is working to deploy Utah resources to help residents make choices that will, over time, transform Utah into the state with the healthiest population in the nation.