by Jason Lee
Whether for longevity or vanity, the importance of being healthy has moved to the forefront of American culture. Rising healthcare costs, for one, make taking proactive steps to better your health that much more important.
Though numerous studies have been conducted to show which cities in the U.S. have the healthiest residents, these studies fail to address how well those cities are set up to assist and accommodate residents in starting or continuing to have healthy lifestyles.
Though the choice to live a healthy lifestyle is personal, cities, governments and non-profit organizations can play a vital role in supporting or discouraging a person’s overall health and well being. In this study, we attempted to identify the cities best and worst equipped for healthy lifestyles. (Data limitations forced us to restrict our ranking to 98 population centers, with western cities somewhat over-represented and smaller cities, especially in the east, under-represented.)
Before we get to our top five and full rankings below, here are three quick takeaways from our findings:
- The west stood out. Even acknowledging the over-representation of western cities in our grouping, the west as a whole ranked very well. Nine of the top 10 overall ranked cities are located in the western part of the U.S.
- Colorado conquers. Colorado had three cities in the top 20 overall.
- The midwest falls down on food. Twenty-two of the 24 worse-ranked cities for health food proximity were all in the Midwest.
The Most Health-conscious Cities
When determining the overall ranking of these cities, we gave the greatest weight to per-capita access to the amenities that would help residents to be active. The factors of next importance were the quality, access and affordability of healthy-food options available to residents, followed by environmental factors, including air and drinking-water quality. We also looked at the current health and habits of the city’s residents.
1. Portland, OR
- Amenities: 19
- Healthy Food Access: 6
- Residents' Health: 6
- Environmental: 19
2. Washington, D.C.
- Amenities: 16
- Healthy Food Access: 14
- Residents' Health: 4
- Environmental: 41
3. Colorado Springs, CO
- Amenities: 47
- Healthy Food Access: 13
- Residents' Health: 2
- Environmental: 6
4. Sacramento, CA
- Amenities: 17
- Healthy Food Access: 16
- Residents' Health: 17
- Environmental: 43
5. Irvine, CA
- Amenities: 3
- Healthy Food Access: 3
- Residents' Health: 12
- Environmental: 91
All of the Best
The five above were tops, but 93 other cities were also considered. Where did yours rank?
Food & Access
The Top (and Bottom) Five Cities for...
In this space, we look at the best and worst cities for healthy living per their rankings in our four categories of consequence.
You can always choose to work out at home with no fitness equipment at your disposal, but having access to proper facilities can go a long way in helping you on your fitness and health journey. We looked at eight fitness-related amenities in each city, including number of gyms, sporting goods stores, recreation centers, baseball diamonds, basketball hoops, tennis courts, park spending and playgrounds.
Healthy Food Access
Maintaining a proper diet comprising quality food is extremely important in living a healthy lifestyle. As important as this is, some cities’ residents have significantly less access to healthy food options. We reviewed organic crop prevalence and the proximity of residents to health food options. We also looked at the grocery cost of living for each city as well as which cities allowed those residents on government assistance programs to access higher quality, healthy food options.
Though your choice to be healthy is ultimately a personal decision independent of your neighbors, the habits and health of those around you will still have an effect on your health. The data points for this section were all state-based, but they still help to paint an accurate picture of the cities studied.
No matter how many healthy choices you make, you are still going to be subjected to your environment and the risk factors it brings to the table. Drinking water and air quality were assessed as these will have a big effect on your health. There are ways to overcome poor drinking water quality (such as filters, bottled water, et cetera) and also ways to overcome poor air quality (air filters, monitoring air quality forecasts, et cetera). Number of conservation organizations, parkland area and farmer’s markets per 100,000 residents was also assessed, as these factors help give a more rounded view of the overall environmental health of a city.
To vary our coverage of the best cities for healthy living, we put the data aside and sought out experts for answers to questions of concern.
Milliken is the general manager of Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, NV
- What makes a great city for living healthfully?
The most important factor a city can offer in regards to public health is education in the classroom at a young age. Poor eating habits are learned in adolescence, and it is exponentially harder to break these habits the older we get. It is vitally important that kids learn what foods to eat, how often they should eat, what times they should eat and also how to shop for and prepare their own food. Equipped with these tools, a person can maintain a healthy lifestyle and even save money. It's a win-win!
Matthew J. Seymour
Seymour is the chief sales officer of CleverTraining.com in Indian Rocks Beach, Fl
Stevens is the CEO of goSTATZm a cloud-based fitness trainer software in Katy, TX
- What makes a great city for living healthfully?
The access of healthy food options is a critical factor to helping a person be healthier. Many areas in the U.S., particularly lower-income urban areas could have more healthy options other than fast food, high fat, lower quality options. Too many residents are faced with the painful decision of eating affordable versus eating healthy, due to the lack of options available in their neighborhoods.
We analyzed 98 cities across the U.S., using 17 factors from seven different data sources. Attempts were made to include other cities, but insufficient data was available to do so. Some of the data we collected was state-specific only; while accurate, such data was given less weight in our final calculations. There were also rare instances when data for a particular data point in a city was not available. If this was simply because of underreporting, a neutral value was applied to the city. If this was because the city fell below the listing because of lack of quality or amenities, the lowest ranking value was applied to the city.
Our final ranking of cities is a combination of all 17 factors grouped into four categories: Fitness and Recreation Amenities, Health Food and Available Access, Environmental Factors and Current Resident Health Habits. The most weight (35%) was given to the Fitness and Recreation Amenities category as we felt it had the most significant and broadest implications. Slightly less weight (30%) was given to Health Food and Access as we felt these amenities were less prevalent in some areas. Additionally, a lower weighting still (20%) was given to Environmental Factors, since we judged these to have a smaller impact on one’s ability to be healthy. The lowest weighting (15%) was given to the health habits of the current residents, since choosing to be healthy is ultimately an individual choice.
Below we break down each data point in each category and provide the source of the data.
Fitness and Recreation Amenities (35%)
- Gyms Per 10,000 Residents – Time Magazine Study (2010)
- Number of Sporting Goods Stores – US Census Bureau (2012)
- Recreation Centers Per 20,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
- Ball Diamonds per 10,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
- Basketball Hoops 10,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
- Playgrounds Per 10,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
- Tennis Courts Per 10,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
- Parkland Spending Per Resident – The Trust for Public Land (2015)
Health Food and Availability (30%)
- Organic Crop Acreage - U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (2013)
- Grocery Cost of Living - Cost of Living Index (2010)
- Percentage of Census Tracts with Health Food Close in Proximity - Center for Disease Control (2014)
- Percent of Farmers Markets that Accept SNAP Benefits - Center for Disease Control (2012)
- Percent of Farmers Markets that Accept WIC Benefits - Center for Disease Control (2012)
Natural and Environmental Factors (20%)
Environmental Factors was calculated using a ranking from a previous ValuePenguin study on the country’s greenest cities. The data used in that study included a combination of six data points from five sources.
- Most Environmental Friendly Cities – ValuePenguin (2016)
Current Resident Health Habits (15%)
- Adults Meeting Exercise Standards - Center for Disease Control (2013)
- Adults Engaging in No Physical Activity - Center for Disease Control (2014)
- Percent of Adults Aged 18 Years and Older Who Are Obese - Center for Disease Control (2014)