MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Utah has the healthiest population of the 50 states and Delaware the sickest, according to a nationwide study that seems to show higher elevations and northern latitudes are better for the body.

The compilation of statistics from public and private health groups showed people who live in most Rocky Mountain and Upper Midwest states are healthier than residents of the Southeast and the East Coast.

Utah residents live an average of 2 1/2 years longer than residents of Delaware, according to the study by the Northwestern National Life Insurance Co.

''Many of the states that show up at the bottom of the list aren't the ones most people would expect. Florida, for example, has one of the highest life expectancies, but poor health habits bring it down to 44th place,'' said Frederic Sattler, head of the insuror's health care division.

''Michigan, in spite of its high median income, ranked 48th, due to the highest level of disease in America,'' he said.

The study released this week compiled data from the 1986 National Health Survey, along with information from the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the National Center for Health Statistics and the American Medical Association.

The states were compared in terms of life expectancy, incidence of major illnesses, lifestyle habits such as tobacco and alcohol consumption, access to medical care, absence from work due to illness, and mortality rates.

After Utah, the healthiest states were North Dakota, Idaho, Minnesota and Hawaii. The bottom five were South Carolina, Nevada, Michigan, Mississippi and Delaware.

''You'll probably find a pretty good correlation between health and genetics, education, a clean environment and even the cultural background,'' Sattler said.

''There's less of a relation between health and income,'' he said, adding that Montana, with a median income below the national average, ranked as one of the 10 healthiest states.

Among the study's findings:

-Hawaii has the highest life expectancy, followed by Minnesota, Iowa, Utah and North Dakota.

-Utah has the lowest incidence of major illness, followed by Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota and Minnesota.

-Utah, where the dominant Mormon religion forbids use of many stimulants, had the best ranking in terms of lifestyle habits such as exercise and low smoking and drinking. Next in line were Idaho, Iowa and Nebraska, and Kansas.

-Hawaii and Utah tied for the lowest mortality rate, followed by Alaska, North Dakota and Colorado.