When it comes to your health, where you live could make more of a difference than you think. Every year, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) releases a report of the healthiest and unhealthiest big cities in America. The attributes of these cities could make them healthier — or less healthy — places to live.
The ACSM first gathered a list of the 100 largest cities in America. To rank the fitness level of each city, the organizations took into account 33 health indicators. They looked at individuals’ health behaviors, such as fruit and vegetable consumption, and exercise and health outcomes, such as reported mental health issues and incidences of disease. They also assessed factors relating to the community as a whole, including the city’s built environment (parks, farmers markets, etc.), recreational facilities (dog parks, playgrounds, etc.), and policies or funding efforts. Each city was given a score based on these factors combined and ranked based on their perceived levels of fitness.
The full results can be found on the 2018 American Fitness Index. But according to their ranking, these were the 15 healthiest and 15 unhealthiest cities in America.
Boston received a score of 67.1, getting major points for the 78.2 percent of its population that claimed to have exercised the 30 days before the survey. However, the city’s individuals could be eating more greens — just 31.2 percent of the city’s residents eat their two recommended servings per day! Boston also got major points for its public transportation usage and huge number of public parks.
San Francisco got a score of 67.3, making it the 14th healthiest city in America. A whopping 60.6 percent of the city met the guidelines for aerobic exercise, and the city led the nation in the portion of their population that eats enough fruits and vegetables. Additionally, 98.7 percent of their residents live within 10 minutes of a park. Sounds like the perfect city for a picnic!
Irvine scored 67.8 on the ACSM’s scale. A majority of the city’s population gets a good amount of aerobic exercise and a majority of people from Irvine get enough sleep. You might not even realize how big of an impact sleep can have on your physical health! The city scored low for parks, farmers markets, and public transportation but made up for part of that with ample recreational facilities and high scores for the personal health of its citizens.
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Plano scored 67.9 points overall. The city in the Dallas/Fort Worth area has the highest percentage of any other city for how many residents meet both aerobic and strength exercise guidelines. The city also has the lowest percentage of people who had poor physical health in the 30 days before the survey and the lowest percentage of people with asthma. Must be something in the air!
The city of Oakland scored an impressive 68.5 points. According to the survey, lots of its citizens walk often, reaping all the health benefits of this low-intensity exercise. The city is home to many parks, and a majority of its citizens are in good health. According to some foodies, it’s also an incredibly underrated city for food and entertainment. If you live there or are planning on taking a visit, you might want to put Zachary’s Pizza on your itinerary. Though it’s not the healthiest thing this city has to offer, they reportedly have some of the best deep-dish pizza outside of Chicago.
Boise scored 69.2 points total for its healthy residents and environment. If you have a dog, you should consider moving to Boise. The city has the highest number of dog parks per capita in the United States. They also have the greatest percentage of people who meet aerobic exercise guidelines. Both dogs and workouts are good for your heart — so no wonder Boise’s citizens are so healthy!
The ninth healthiest city in the United States, San Jose scored 69.8 on the ACSM scale. Of all the cities ranked, San Jose boasts the highest personal health score in America, meaning its residents are physically in the best shape. They exercise, they sleep, and only a small portion of them have diseases such as diabetes or report high blood pressure. They must be taking it easy on these artery-straining, sodium-rich foods.
Minnesota might be known for its ridiculously unhealthy state fair foods and potato-heavy dishes, but St. Paul’s residents have managed to fare pretty well regardless. The Twin City scored 70.2 on the overall health score, making it the eighth healthiest big city in America. Where did St. Paul stand out? Most notably with their recreational facilities: St. Paul has more baseball diamonds than any other city ranked.
Denver’s residents must be seriously benefiting from all that mountain air — the city scored high on the health-meter with 70.2 points. Its residents get lots of exercise and few of them smoke (cigarettes, at least). A majority of them are in good physical health; the city’s mental health, on the other hand, seems to be suffering a bit more. Slightly over 41 percent claim to have been in poor mental health in the 30 days before the survey. That could just mean that the city’s residents are more apt to reporting these problems, though. Mental health is still severely misunderstood in the United States!
Seattle may have some of the best-tasting food and drink in Washington state, but that hasn’t taken its toll on the health of Seattle’s residents. A majority of them get enough sleep and exercise, while few of them have high blood pressure or diabetes. Between all the parks, farmers markets, and sports facilities, it’s easy to see why!
Residents of Portland, Oregon, are active and love to munch on fruits and vegetables. These aspects helped them climb the rankings to the fifth healthiest city in the United States with a score of 71.6. In addition to fruits and vegetables, Portland’s residents clearly love cheese. One of their pizzerias broke a record with their insanely cheesy pizza.
Despite Wisconsin being known for its love of all things cheese, Madison outshone many American cities with its impressive health scores. The city scored healthiest in seven of the health indicators tested, including recent exercise, getting enough sleep, blood pressure, stroke risk, and the number of playgrounds, basketball hoops, and parks. And cheese isn’t that bad for you, anyway. In fact, we advocate for eating more of it — you know, for your health.
People who live in D.C. love to spend time outside. More Washington residents bike or walk to work than those from any other city, and the area has more farmers markets per capita than any other in the United States. There are over 70 miles of bike lanes in the city, providing ample opportunity for biking around. Overall, D.C. is the third healthiest city in America with a score of 74 from the ACSM. The one area it could do better? Cigarettes — nearly 15 percent of D.C. residents smoke.
The runner-up for this nationwide health ranking was Minneapolis, scoring 77.2 points overall. The residents of Minneapolis have avoided high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes for the most part, despite the high-fat foods Minnesotans are famous for eating. The city also claims impressive community programming and public space for physical activities and spending time outdoors. Minneapolis is home to 6,800 acres of parks and 102 miles of biking and walking paths.
The winner for the overall healthiest city in America was Arlington, Virginia, with a score of 77.7. In contrast to neighboring Washington, D.C., Arlington had the lowest percentage of smokers of any city ranked and had the highest percentage of individuals who claim to be in good health. What else helped this city stand out? Their 49 miles of paved multi-use trails, active biking community, and public planning initiatives to encourage healthy habits in schools.
Newark scored a dismal 38.6 for its overall health score. Less than a third of the population consumes two or more servings of fruits or vegetables per day and a similar percentage meets the exercise guidelines. Newark's airport apparently has some of the best food and drink though, so it’s not a bad place to spend a layover.
Lubbock, Texas, didn’t fare too well either, scoring 36.6 points. The town is home to one of the best wineries in America, however — though that might not be helping the city’s health score. A large number of the city’s residents have high blood pressure when compared to the national average, and the city’s mental health had below-average reports, as well.
If you love music, barbecue, and a good time, then by all means you should move to Memphis. But if you’re judging the overall health of your destination city, you might want to pick a different location. Memphis scored a measly 35.5 on the ACSM scale — largely due to its high smoking rates and above-average prevalence of disease. The ACSM also noted they could do better at providing parks and other public locations that promote physical activity.
Laredo, Texas, located near the Mexican border, is the 10th most populous city in the state. It’s a great location to visit if you want good Mexican food, but maybe not if you’re looking to join a running club and eat salad. The city scored 34.9 points. Only 56.7 percent of the entire city’s population claims to have exercised at least once in the past 30 days and less than 3 percent of the city uses public transportation, rides a bicycle, or walks to get around.
One of the largest cities in North Carolina, Winston-Salem is also one of the least healthy according to the ACSM. The city is well known for its historic influence in the tobacco industry, which hasn’t left a positive mark on the city’s health. Nearly 18 percent of the residents of this city smoke cigarettes, which is higher than the national average. The city might have been ranked one of the most livable cities in America in 2017, but that might not be the case if you’re someone who likes exercising outdoors. The city ranked low for parks and other public recreation centers.
Tulsa is the 10th least healthy city in America according to these rankings. They scored especially low in the individual health category — apparently not many Tulsans eat their vegetables. Who could blame them, with all the good beer and hot dogs the city offers instead? Unfortunately, science is not on their side for this one. Studies show beer and hot dogs are bad for you. Who knew?
No one’s traveling to Vegas thinking that it’s good for them. But this is North Las Vegas — in the same larger metropolitan area as Las Vegas itself, but not home to anywhere near as many casinos and celebrities. Regardless, this city didn’t rank too highly in terms of physical fitness level. The city scored 34 points, ranking pretty low both for individual health and the city’s environment.
Gilbert, Arizona, scored just 33.5 total points. While the residents’ physical health wasn’t the worst ranked of most cities, it also wasn’t the best. However, the city got knocked so far down on the ACSM ranking because of its physical environment. The city spends relatively little on public parks each year and doesn’t require its public school students to take any physical education courses. It has few recreational centers and zero farmers’ markets.
Fresno didn’t do too well on the personal health rankings. One odd outlier, though, was Fresno’s heart disease rate. It had the lowest incidence of diagnosed heart disease of any other city considered.
Wichita is the largest city in Kansas, with a population of nearly 400,000. The many residents of this city, however, seem to be struggling a bit with their health. Less than half of the population exercises enough, according to ACSM guidelines. And a whopping one-fifth of the population still smokes cigarettes.
Toledo is located in the northern part of Ohio, near Lake Erie and the border with Michigan. Its residents’ personal health scored scary low on the ACSM scale — their disease incidences are high compared to other cities, and Toledo’s citizens don’t tend to walk as much as other cities’ do.
Detroit is known for many things, but health consciousness is not one of them. Detroit’s residents are some of the unhealthiest in America, with nearly 58 percent of them in poor health. They have high levels of hypertension and diabetes, despite the ample public parks and recreation centers. Go to Detroit for its unique style of pizza and automobile museums — not for your vitamins and minerals.
Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, but it’s definitely not the healthiest. Louisville scored just 27 points on the ACSM scale. Just 20 percent of the city’s population eats their vegetables — but we hear Kentucky has great fried chicken!
The second unhealthiest city in America is Indianapolis, home of the Indy 500 and the famous steakhouse, St. Elmo’s. The city scored 26.9 points, scoring low for both personal health scores and the city’s environment.
The absolute unhealthiest city in America? Oklahoma City. We knew the Midwest wasn’t known for its salads, but this city could seriously use some. They scored just 26.3 points overall on the ACSM scale. However, the city has taken a number of actions to try to improve the health of its citizens, including its most recent public health initiative called Plan OKC. It includes plans for walking paths and other features the city hopes will encourage people to exercise. They’ll also be building public parks — probably great places to picnic!
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