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Washington, D.C., Tops List of Healthiest U.S. Cities

Residents walk more, eat better, have more access to parks than other urbanites

TUESDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) -- Which U.S. city is the healthiest and fittest? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, bragging rights this year go to Washington, D.C.

The distinction headlined the group's annual report card on the well-being of the nation's largest urban areas. Labeled the American Fitness Index, the analysis ranks U.S. cities in terms of chronic disease prevalence as well as the degree to which heavily populated areas take steps to promote preventive health behaviors, ensure access to health care and support physical activity.

The index "not only measures the state of health and fitness in our nation's largest communities but evaluates the infrastructure, community assets, policies and opportunities which encourage residents to live a healthy and fit lifestyle," Walt Thompson, chairman of the American Fitness Index advisory board, said in a news release from the college.

"I liken the data report and rankings to the metro areas 'getting a physical' at the doctor's office," Thompson said. "The information learned from the physical will help each metro area identify areas of strength and weakness."

The Washington, D.C., area is not a newcomer to the top spot. The region -- which for purposes of the fitness rating included the Arlington and Alexandria areas of northern Virginia, which border the city -- ranked first in 2008 and 2009 as well.

Compared with other residents of American urban areas, Washington area residents apparently smoke less, eat more fruits and vegetables, have a lower incidence of obesity, asthma, heart disease and diabetes, use public transportation more often, walk more and have access to more park space relative to the city's size for activities such as biking, running and team sports.

Most of the top 10 cities are in the western part of the country. Following Washington, D.C., in order, are: Boston; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Denver; Sacramento, Calif.; San Francisco; Hartford, Conn.; and Austin, Texas.

The country's three biggest cities were neither the best nor worst performers, with New York City coming in 21st, Chicago ranking 33rd and Los Angeles, 38th.

Thompson and his colleagues noted a variety of factors that appeared to influence the health and fitness of urban dwellers. Being unemployed, they said, appeared to increase the risk for heart disease, and being better educated increased the likelihood of being active and in good or excellent health.

Being poor or disabled or living in an area prone to violent crime were also linked to a greater risk for having a variety of health concerns, including smoking, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on physical fitness.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: American College of Sports Medicine, news release, May 24, 2010

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