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June 2017

Fitness Index aims to help nation and metro areas develop sustainable, healthy community cultures

AFI Infographic LinkOnly three metropolitan areas outgained the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue region on the latest American Fitness Index (AFI) compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Sponsored by the Anthem Foundation, the annual compilation (now in its 10th year) stated half the 50 Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the study improved their scores from the previous year. "There were some remarkably positive shifts in several key indicators," noted the authors of AFI's 128-page report.

The AFI Data Report reflects a composite of personal health measures, preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, as well as environmental and community resources and policies that support physical activity. In addition, demographic and economic diversity are included.

Cities that rank near the top have more strengths and resources that support healthy living and fewer challenges that hinder it, according to the report's authors.

The Seattle metro area had an overall score of 72.2 based on points that reflect a composite of personal health measures, preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, as well as environmental and community resources and polities that support physical activity. Demographic and economic diversity are also included.

Communities with the highest index scores are considered to have strong community fitness, much like individuals with high levels of personal fitness.

Minneapolis, with a score of 80.2, reclaimed first place after yielding to Washington, DC the previous three years. As runner-up, the DC metro area had a score of 79.2. The area encompassing San Francisco, Oakland and Hayward earned 73.3 points to edge out Seattle.

Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN finished at the low end of the rankings (50th) with a score of only 23.1.

The rank changed five positions or more for nine MSAs (Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando, Providence, Sacramento, and San Diego).

The report lists "areas of excellence" (indicating at or better than the target goal) as well as "improvement priority areas" (worse than 20 percent of target goal) for each area. The Seattle metro area's "excellence list" cited:

  • Higher percentage of any physical activity or exercise in the last 30 days
  • Higher percentage meeting both CDC aerobic and strength activity guidelines
  • Lower percentage with diabetes
  • Higher percentage of parkland as city land area
  • More farmers' markets per capita
  • Higher percentage using public transportation to work
  • Higher percentage bicycling or walking to work
  • Higher Walk ScoreĀ®
  • Higher percentage within a 10 minute walk to a park
  • More dog parks per capita
  • More park units per capita
  • More tennis courts per capita
  • Higher park-related expenditures per capita
  • Higher level of state requirement for Physical Education classes

Seven areas were specified for local improvement:

  • Higher percentage of days when mental health was not good during the past 30 days
  • Higher percentage with asthma
  • Higher percentage diagnosed with a stroke
  • Higher death rate for diabetes
  • Fewer acres of parkland per capita
  • Fewer basketball hoops per capita
  • Fewer swimming pools per capita

Craig Samitt, MD and chief clinical officer at Anthem Inc., described several national long-term trends as "encouraging."  These included declines in smoking rates, drops in death rates for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and increases in the number of farmers' markets. He also pointed to increases in the percent of residents taking public transportation to work, gains in the number of residents who bike or walk to work, and rising per capita expenditures for parks as positive trends.

The goal of the AFI program is to help improve the health of the nation and promote active lifestyles by supporting local programming to develop a sustainable, healthy community culture, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.  "To accomplish this goal, community leaders and health planners need to be aware of their community's health status and behaviors," the authors emphasized.

Also important are key indicators, such as obesity and chronic disease rates related to physical inactivity, the built environment and resources, and policies that support a healthy community, the report suggested.

American Fitness Index Report linkSponsors say the AFI program is specifically designed to provide these data and other valuable assistance to cities to help further efforts to improve the health and quality of life of residents, promote healthier lifestyles and encourage community resource development to support physical activity.

"The AFI has continually proven its value as a trusted measurement of the health of our metro areas, and it has also become a catalyst for urban and suburban leaders to shape infrastructures that promote healthy lifestyles and create positive outcomes," said chair of the AFI Advisory Board Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., FASCM. "Our overarching goal is to offer communities and residents resources that can help them assess, plan and implement measures for a quality, healthier life."

Initial elements for the AFI Data Report were scored for relevance by a panel of 26 health and physical activity experts.