The Healthiest Places in America

The Healthiest Metro Areas

With the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, everyone seems to have something to say about the state of health care in America. NerdWallet sifted through data available on the 50 largest metropolitan areas to find the healthiest places in the U.S. We assessed the general fitness of residents, overall health insurance coverage and the availability of doctors. The rankings were based on the following factors:

  1. How fit are the residents? We assessed the overall fitness of residents in line with the American Fitness Index, a composite index that includes data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), environmental factors from the Trust for Public Lands, rates of disease and other government data. We also included the percentage of residents with healthy weight levels and the percentage of residents who engage in physical activity, according to data from the CDC.
  2. Is health care accessible? We incorporated the percentage of residents who have health insurance, as well as the number of available physicians per 100,000 residents.

Healthiest Metro Areas

1. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston takes the prize for healthiest metro area. It’s no surprise that there is a very low rate of uninsured residents—just 4.6%—considering the success of Romneycare, the state’s 2006 health care reform law signed by former Gov. Mitt Romney. But Boston is far from complacent in improving the fitness of Bostonians. Mayor Thomas Menino, in his final year in office, introduced the Million Pound Challenge, summoning residents to collectively lose 1 million pounds and to move 10 million miles. With the help of several sponsors, including the Boston Public Health Commission and the Boston Red Sox, the city offered free fitness classes throughout the summer. In addition, a coalition of local academics, architects, developers, planners, public officials and residents helped launch Fit City Boston.

2. San Francisco, California

Often referred to as the City by the Bay, San Francisco is a year-round paradise for fitness gurus and outdoor adventurers, thanks to the habitually temperate weather and plenty of parks, walking paths and steep hills. Nearly 45% of San Francisco residents are at a healthy weight, perhaps because it’s been dubbed the best city for weight loss and home to the healthiest eaters. And in its fifth annual survey, Women’s Health magazine ranked San Francisco as the best city for women’s health.

3. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis earned the Trust for Public Land’s 2013 award for the city with the best parks, stealing the coveted spot from San Francisco with a landmark perfect score. It also earned the top spot in Bicycling magazine’s annual list of America’s best cities for biking, beating out Portland. Minneapolis also boasts the Chain of Lakes, an idyllic series of parks where you can find paths or spaces for exercise and two miles of water for canoers.

4. Seattle, Washington

Seattle is serious about the health of its residents. At least half of the options in all vending machines on city-owned property (parks, recreation centers, government buildings, etc.) must be health-department-approved healthy snacks. The Seattle Foundation’s Outdoors for All Foundation provides therapeutic outdoor activities to children and adults with disabilities, ranging from skiing to rock-climbing. Seattle also earned the distinction from Men’s Health magazine of being the best city for men’s health.

5. Washington, D.C.

Washington passed its Healthy Schools Act in 2010 and is beginning to see the benefits of its Healthy Schools Initiative, such as 100% of schools now serving free breakfast. Not only is D.C. creating a generation of healthier residents, it boasts the second-densest parklands among U.S. cities—900 acres of athletic fields and playgrounds, 40 swimming pools and 68 recreation centers, all for residents to enjoy.

6. San Jose, California

Like its neighbor San Francisco, San Jose has ideal temperatures year-round for promoting outdoor exercise and activity. The 2011 Campaign for Healthy Food San Jose, overseen by HealthTrust, worked to increase the number of farmers markets and community gardens in San Jose. Eighteen community gardens now exist, totaling 35 acres. San Jose’s residents also smoke less than residents of any other major U.S. city.

7. Denver, Colorado

Although Denver has relatively fewer doctors, a high percentage of city residents have healthy weight levels. Two communities in Denver were selected by The Colorado Health Foundation to participate in their new Healthy Places initiative, a five-year, $4.5 million initiative aimed at developing healthy communities. Healthy Places strives to reduce obesity by creating environments that are safer and more appealing for healthy habits and daily exercise.

8. Portland, Oregon

Portland has widely been called one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world—and for residents, sustainability and health go hand in hand. For more than a decade, the Green Building and Development Program has worked with companies and residents to promote sustainable building practices. And as an added incentive to exercise, Portland boasts the Green Microgym, which converts the energy generated by the use of exercise equipment into electricity that powers fans and flat-screen TVs.

9. Sacramento, California

Nearly 85% of Sacramento residents partake in physical activity. The Healthy Sacramento Coalition, formed in 2011 by a federal grants, aims to reduce chronic disease and health disparities, while increasing knowledge and awareness of healthy lifestyles.

10. Hartford, Connecticut

The Hartford metro area is well-insured, with 92.1% of residents covered. Through the Hartford Childhood Wellness Alliance, Hartford aims to reduce childhood obesity through a concerted community effort. This initiative recently received funding from the National Institutes of Health to conduct the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Program. This small, controlled trial will aim to increase breastfeeding, delay introduction of solid foods and avoid sugary drinks.

11. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City boasts Be Active and Healthy, an obesity-prevention program that aims to raise awareness about health issues and teach the benefits of staying in good health. The Salt Lake region, known for its scenic skiing slopes, also has a booming outdoor recreation economy, promoting an active lifestyle for both its residents and tourists.

12. San Diego, California

Fun in the sun. Surfing. Beaches. Who wouldn’t be happy and healthy in San Diego? San Diego is three years into a 10-year health initiative dubbed Live Well, San Diego! The initiative seeks to address the root causes of illness and high health care costs in the city through a three-step plan—”Building Better Health,” “Living Safely” and “Thriving”—the third step of which is expected to unfold in 2014.

13. Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore residents are well-insured and have plenty of physicians to choose from. The Healthy Baltimore 2015 initiative seeks to help all residents achieve their best health outcomes by setting goals in areas such as improving heart health and eliminating smoking. The Baltimore Food Policy Initiative also aims to provide healthy and affordable food options by running programs in food policy, urban agriculture and schools.

14. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia is four years into a citywide health initiative called Get Healthy Philly that brings together government, community-based organizations, academia and the private sector in an effort to promote healthy eating and tobacco control. It also aims to increase the number of opportunities for physical activity among all age groups.

15. New York, New York

With 11 of the healthiest companies to work for within its city limits and an abundance of doctors, New York rounds out our list. The Partnership for a Healthier New York aims to significanty reduce chronic disease in New York City by focusing on healthy eating, active and tobacco-free living, and reducing excessive and underage alcohol use. City Walk Score also named New York the most walkable city in 2014, meaning residents have the opportunity to choose healthier transportation options.

Healthiest Metro Areas

Rank Metro area Fitness index Percent of residents who are a healthy weight Percent of residents who partake in physical activity Health insurance coverage Physicians per 100,000 residents Overall health score
1 Boston, MA 67.1 43.2% 78.5% 95.4% 581 84.3
2 San Francisco, CA 68.7 44.8% 82.6% 88.1% 469 80.6
3 Minneapolis, MN 78.2 38.4% 82.9% 91.5% 319 73.0
4 Seattle, WA 66.7 42.3% 83.4% 87.0% 384 72.6
5 Washington, DC 77.7 37.8% 80.7% 88.2% 445 71.8
6 San Jose, CA 66.4 39.7% 83.0% 88.1% 401 70.5
7 Denver, CO 68.1 43.0% 83.8% 84.8% 341 70.5
8 Portland, OR 69.8 40.3% 84.2% 85.5% 362 70.1
9 Sacramento, CA 66.8 40.9% 84.7% 86.6% 309 68.7
10 Hartford, CT 66.6 38.0% 80.5% 92.1% 392 68.2
11 Salt Lake City, UT 62.5 41.8% 81.7% 83.9% 359 63.6
12 San Diego, CA 61.3 41.2% 81.0% 82.7% 365 60.5
13 Baltimore, MD 59.5 33.5% 76.0% 90.8% 500 57.0
14 Philadelphia, PA 51.2 39.9% 75.8% 90.0% 415 56.4
15 New York, NY 52.1 40.5% 75.4% 86.8% 461 56.1

 

Least Healthy Metro Areas

Rank Metro area Fitness index Percent of residents who are a healthy weight Percent of residents who partake in physical activity Health insurance coverage Physicians per 100,000 residents Overall health score
1 Dallas, TX 37.4 36.4% 73.6% 77.7% 228 22.2
2 Memphis, TN 36.0 28.9% 73.9% 84.3% 302 22.5
3 Oklahoma City, OK 31.2 35.1% 71.5% 82.5% 296 22.7
4 Orlando, FL 42.5 34.3% 74.7% 79.3% 234 25.1
5 Riverside, CA 42.5 35.1% 76.4% 79.2% 168 25.3

Methodology:

The overall health score for each city was obtained from the following factors:

  1. Fitness index from the American Fitness Index
  2. Percent of residents who are a healthy weight from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
  3. Percentage of residents who engage in physical activity from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
  4. Health insurance coverage from the U.S. Census
  5. Physicians per 100,000 residents from the U.S. Census

The fifty largest U.S. metro areas were included in this analysis.

 


Running photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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