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The American College of Sports Medicine’s fitness index ranks the nation’s largest cities based on how well they can support healthy living for their residents.
Arlington, Virginia ranked as the fittest American city for the fourth consecutive year on the American Fitness Index.
Cities with the highest scores on the American College of Sports Medicine’s index of the 100 largest cities have “strong community fitness.” The ones that rank near the top can better support healthy living for their residents; the ones at the bottom cannot.
The nine cities that follow Arlington on the 2021 list are: Minneapolis; Seattle; Denver; Madison, Wisconsin; St. Paul, Minnesota; Irvine, California; Portland, Oregon; and Atlanta.
The 10 places at the bottom of the list are: Fort Worth, Texas; Toledo, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; Bakersfield, California; Chesapeake, Virginia; Indianapolis; Wichita, Kansas; North Las Vegas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Oklahoma City.
About one-third of U.S. residents in the 100 largest cities are obese, 14% smoke and 25% did not exercise in the previous month, according to the report accompanying the index. And preliminary studies show that the pandemic reduced physical activity and healthy eating for men and women, and increased obesity rates and stress.
Regular physical activity lessens chronic illnesses, improves mental health and lowers overall health-care costs. The report says that a supportive “built” environment is needed to improve activity levels but many cities lack that, and nearly 100 million U.S. residents do not live within a 10-minute walk of a public park.
Physical activity isn’t just good for individuals -- it’s good for a city’s bottom line, the report states: “There is strong evidence of significant economic benefits from local policies and planning that support physical activity, walkability, and bikeability. Well-designed cities experience increased home values, retail activity, and business and job growth.”
The ACSM recommends that public officials implement policies that support physical activity programming and infrastructure, particularly in neighborhoods with fewer resources.
This year, the index also ranked cities that are the most food insecure. They are: St. Louis; New Orleans and Baltimore(tied); Detroit; Philadelphia; Laredo, Texas; Toledo and Cleveland (tied); Richmond, Virginia; Lubbock, Texas and Indianapolis (tied). Feeding America estimated that about 50 million U.S. residents, or one in six people, faced food insecurity in 2020.
The fitness index, funded by the Anthem Foundation, looked at 34 factors of health behaviors and outcomes, the built environment, recreation facilities and government policies and funding. This year food security and sleep were added to the factors.
Jean Dimeo is managing editor of Route Fifty.