Jacalyn Leavitt to Address U Public Health Graduates, Program Announces Scholarship in Her Name

Jacalyn Leavitt to Address U Public Health Graduates, Program Announces Scholarship in Her Name

May 17, 2004 6:00 PM

Jacalyn S. Leavitt, former first lady of Utah and a longtime advocate for child and maternal health, will be the keynote speaker at this year's University of Utah Public Health Program graduation dinner.

George L. White, Jr., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., professor and director of the program, noted that Leavitt has worked behind the scenes for decades to improve child and maternal health in Utah. At the dinner, to be held Friday at the Panorama Room on the University of Utah campus, Leavitt will talk about her experiences as First Lady of Utah, and the "Immunize by 2" Initiative.

White also announced the formation of the "Jacalyn S. Leavitt Endowed Scholarship for Child and Maternal Health," to support public health graduate students focusing their studies on this important but little-known aspect of public health. "Public and private support for this endowed scholarship has been phenomenal," says White. "I see that as a 'thank-you' for her dedication to the children of our state."

Leavitt, whose husband Mike was elected Utah governor in 1992 and resigned last fall to become administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was a driving force behind the Immunize by 2 campaign to emphasize the importance of immunizations in preventing childhood diseases. In 1996, Utah was ranked last in the nation for immunizations of children 0-2 years of age, but by 2002 was ranked 24th in the country. Utah's 79.9% immunization rate exceeds the national rate of 78.5% and is higher than its neighboring states of Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. By kindergarten, 97% of Utah's children are fully immunized, but "the majority of immunizations necessary to effectively prevent infectious diseases must be given during the first two years of life," says White. "That's why the Immunize by 2 campaign is so very important."

Leavitt also was instrumental in establishing the state's innovative Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides medical insurance for children whose families dont have health coverage. The plan covers well-child exams, immunizations, health-care provider visits and services, prescriptions, and hearing and vision exams. An experienced teacher and author of several children's books, Leavitt also initiated the "Read to Me" campaign to help parents become aware of the importance of reading aloud to their children and to offer models and strategies for teaching a love of reading. Leavitt joins a list of distinguished public-health professionals who have keynoted the Public Health graduation dinner. Previous speakers include James O. Mason, M.D., Dr.P.H., former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Ken Moritsuga, M.D., M.S.P.H., former acting Surgeon General of the United States; and John H. Holbrook, M.D., a nationally recognized expert on smoking and health.

The Utah Public Health Program is ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The program was established 30 years ago as part of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine. To date, the program has some 730 alumni, many of whom hold key positions in government, private, and public health organizations.

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