The Most Health-conscious Cities in America

 
 
 
 

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.

  • Portland, OR

    • Amenities: 19
    • Residents' Health: 6
    • Healthy Food Access: 6
    • Environmental: 19
  • Washington, D.C.

    • Amenities: 16
    • Residents' Health: 4
    • Healthy Food Access: 14
    • Environmental: 41
  • Colorado Springs, CO

    • Amenities: 47
    • Residents' Health: 2
    • Healthy Food Access: 13
    • Environmental: 6
  • Sacramento, CA

    • Amenities: 17
    • Residents' Health: 17
    • Healthy Food Access: 16
    • Environmental: 43
  • Irvine, CA

    • Amenities: 3
    • Residents' Health: 12
    • Healthy Food Access: 3
    • Environmental: 91

All of the Best

The five above were tops, but 93 other cities were also considered. Where did yours rank?

RankCityStateAmmenitiesFood & AccessResidentsEnvironmental
1PortlandOR196619
2WashingtonDC1614441
3Colorado SpringsCO471326
4SacramentoCA17161743
5IrvineCA331291
6San DiegoCA2591848
7SeattleWA15342329
8DenverCO2123360
9TucsonAZ4126373
10Chula VistaCA468947
11OaklandCA44221525
12BuffaloNY3415944
13OrlandoFL2740505
14San FranciscoCA51151926
15NorfolkVA967459
16San JoseCA42172046
17St. PetersburgFL8395150
18TampaFL11375249
19AuroraCO4520159
20Virginia BeachVA13684610
21JacksonvilleFL26534814
22Corpus ChristiTX36217827
23CincinnatiOH2467255
24BostonMA387057
25MinneapolisMN1962917
26MadisonWI2273542
27RenoNV55432813
28BoiseID29713812
29Long BeachCA49101388
30PittsburghPA6566754
31AtlantaGA12445673
32St. PaulMN14923018
33RaleighNC10776522
34ArlingtonVA4834342
35FremontCA86191024
36MilwaukeeWI23655532
37AlbuquerqueNM6441418
38DurhamNC35626311
39RiversideCA5771696
40HendersonNV32512568
41BaltimoreMD28614253
42StocktonCA6652286
43OmahaNE18875821
44New YorkNY48306066
45AnaheimCA832790
46BakersfieldCA7612887
47St. LouisMO24766938
48GreensboroNC43726415
49DetroitMI37316885
50GlendaleAZ40483381
51ScottsdaleAZ30573684
52ChesapeakeVA39664450
53AustinTX71277728
54Santa AnaCA8042192
55Los AngelesCA81111489
56PlanoTX31598750
57ClevelandOH5827372
58ChicagoIL7945367
59ChandlerAZ56453179
60ColumbusOH69337451
61LincolnNE5497571
62AnchorageAK6898244
63DallasTX59357974
64HialeahFL58794734
65Lexington/FayetteKY50858916
66PhiladelphiaPA33866662
67MiamiFL61804935
68FresnoCA97181194
69GarlandTX62368275
70Winston-SalemNC53696157
71Baton RougeLA20909558
72GilbertAZ72473280
73San AntonioTX85248852
74MesaAZ70493482
75Las VegasNV77552669
76IrvingTX65388476
77Fort WorthTX75288178
78Kansas CityKS60817037
79HoustonTX74258395
80Jersey CityNJ98423965
81Fort WayneIN73759320
82PhoenixAZ82523583
83LubbockTX78298693
84North Las VegasNV92582770
85ArlingtonTX91327677
86Nashville/DavidsonTN63889230
87TulsaOK52939839
88El PasoTX84508063
89ToledoOH95647531
90WichitaKS90747133
91LaredoTX96548545
92MemphisTN67899140
93Charlotte/MecklenburgNC88606271
94NewarkNJ93784064
95New OrleansLA87919623
96LouisvilleKY79849056
97IndianapolisIN94639461
98Oklahoma CityOK89959736

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.

Amenities

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.

RankCityState
1MinneapolisMN
2CincinnatiOH
3IrvineCA
4ArlingtonVA
5ClevelandOH
RankCityState
98Jersey CityNJ
97FresnoCA
96LaredoTX
95ToledoOH
94IndianapolisIN

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.

RankCityState
1BuffaloNY
2AnaheimCA
3IrvineCA
4Santa AnaCA
5StocktonCA
RankCityState
98AnchorageAK
97LincolnNE
96MinneapolisMN
95Oklahoma CityOK
94ChicagoIL

Residents' Health

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.

RankCityState
1AuroraCO
2Colorado SpringsCO
3DenverCO
4WashingtonDC
5BostonMA
RankCityState
98TulsaOK
97Oklahoma CityOK
96New OrleansLA
95Baton RougeLA
94IndianapolisIN

Environmental

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.

RankCityState
1LincolnNE
2MadisonWI
3TucsonAZ
4AnchorageAK
5OrlandoFL
RankCityState
96RiversideCA
95HoustonTX
94FresnoCA
93LubbockTX
92Santa AnaCA

Experts' Take

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.

Casey Milliken

Milliken is the general manager of Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, Nev.

  • 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, Fla.

  • What makes a great city for living healthfully?

    I think that it is important for a city to offer free, safe and easily accessible running and cycling trails for their residents to use. Exercising in nature can be relaxing and help to create healthy habits.

Joe Stevens

Stevens is the CEO of goSTATZm a cloud-based fitness trainer software in Katy, Texas.

  • 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.

Methodology

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%)

  1. Gyms Per 10,000 Residents – Time Magazine Study (2010)
  2. Number of Sporting Goods Stores – US Census Bureau (2012)
  3. Recreation Centers Per 20,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
  4. Ball Diamonds per 10,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
  5. Basketball Hoops 10,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
  6. Playgrounds Per 10,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
  7. Tennis Courts Per 10,000 Residents - The Trust for Public Land (2015)
  8. Parkland Spending Per Resident – The Trust for Public Land (2015)

Health Food and Availability (30%)

  1. Organic Crop Acreage - U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (2013)
  2. Grocery Cost of Living - Cost of Living Index (2010)
  3. Percentage of Census Tracts with Health Food Close in Proximity - Center for Disease Control (2014)
  4. Percent of Farmers Markets that Accept SNAP Benefits - Center for Disease Control (2012)
  5. 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.

  1. Most Environmental Friendly Cities – ValuePenguin (2016)

Current Resident Health Habits (15%)

  1. Adults Meeting Exercise Standards - Center for Disease Control (2013)
  2. Adults Engaging in No Physical Activity - Center for Disease Control (2014)
  3. Percent of Adults Aged 18 Years and Older Who Are Obese - Center for Disease Control (2014)

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