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The Washington, D.C., 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 five on the 2014 American Fitness Index report, released today. Memphis is ranked last among the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas.
The American College of Sports Medicine used federal and other data to compare Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) based on 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," or 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 community assets and policies that encourage healthy lifestyles.
The Washington metro area scored high 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 physiology at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Washington's public amenities were cited as above average, with more recreation centers, swimming pools and tennis courts per capita than target goals. 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," Thompson says.
As for cities at the bottom of the index, 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," Thompson says. The index "was created for communities to assess their level of health and fitness," and identify areas for improvement, he says.
Cities, states and businesses are often in need of the kinds of metrics that this report assembles, says physician Timothy Church, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. "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?"