The Washington metropolitan area has reclaimed the top spot in an annual ranking of health and community fitness, bumping Minneapolis-St. Paul, last year's three-peat winner, to second place.
Portland, Ore.; Denver; and San Francisco round out the Top 5 on the 2014 American Fitness Index report, released today. Memphis is ranked last among the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas. Published by the American College of Sports Medicine, the report uses federal and other data to compare Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) based on 31 indicators in four categories: chronic health problems (diabetes, asthma); health behaviors (cigarette smoking and fruit consumption); physical or built environments (parkland acreage and number of farmer's markets); and recreational facilities (swimming pools and playgrounds). A new indicator this year is a city's 'Walk Score,' a measurement of how easy it is to walk to amenities and services.
Developed by a team of leading sports medicine professionals and exercise scientists, the fitness index offers a snapshot of the state of health in the community and an evaluation of the infrastructure, community assets and policies that encourage healthy and fit lifestyles, according to the report.
The Washington metro area achieved a high of 77.3 out of 100 possible points with notable strengths listed in the areas of personal health behaviors and amenities that support physical activity and healthy living, says Walter Thompson, chairman of the advisory board that created the index and a professor of exercise pysiology at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Thompson points to Washington's top marks for parkland as a percentage of city land (19.5% vs. the target goal of 10.6%); park-related expenditures ($398 per resident; target goal: $101.80 per resident); farmers' markets per capita (28.5 per 1,000,000; target goal: 13.1 per 1,000,000); percent of commuters using public transportation (14.1%; target goal: 4.3%); average percent of commuters biking and walking (4.0%; target goal: 2.8%); and an excellent Walk Score (74.0; target goal 51.1).
Washington's public amenities were cited as above average, with more recreation centers, more swimming pools and more tennis courts per capita than target goals. On the health front, the region was at or better than the target goal for lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
'Measures for the top five MSAs are very similar, suggesting that the 'fitness' levels of these cities are very similar and the differences among them are probably not remarkable,' says Thompson. As for cities at the bottom of the index: No. 45 San Antonio (35.6 out of 100 points); No. 46 Nashville (32.5 points); No. 47 Indianapolis (32.3 points); No. 48 Oklahoma City (31.6 points); No. 49 Louisville (25.7 points); and No. 50 Memphis (24.8 points). It's important to remember 'that the ranking merely points out that relative to each other, some metro areas scored better on the indicators than the other,' says Thompson. The index 'was created for communities to assess their level of health and fitness, assess areas that could use improvement, and to increase their scores over time,' he says.
Cities, states and businesses are often in need of the kinds of metrics that this report pulls together, says physician Timothy Church, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. He was not involved in the new report. 'I've worked with a number of those groups and they want to know how do we judge ourselves, how do we know if we're doing the right things, what should we be working on?'
In addition, the attention associated with this report 'helps creates an awareness' that factors associated with fitness, health and environment 'make a difference in people's lives,' says Church. 'These are important topics to talk about. (The report) clearly can be a call to action for certain places.'
With a grant from the WellPoint Foundation, (the charitable arm of health plan provider WellPoint) the American College of Sports Medicine will use data from the AFI report to work with community organizations in Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Miami in 2014 to initiate locally driven health improvement efforts.