The American Fitness Index report ranking the 100 Fittest Cities in America was released on July 14, 2020. The rankings are compiled through a partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine and Anthem Foundation. Measures include walkability, meeting physical activity guidelines, numbers of persons who smoke or diagnosed with diabetes, proximity to parks and farmers markets, and percent participating in active transportation. Many local governments look forward to their rankings and use the American Fitness Index report to target initiatives so that they can improve their standings and engage in a healthy competition with other municipalities. In 2020, Arlington, Virginia was named the #1 Fittest City, same as in 2019. The Charlotte, NC metro region, which includes both York and Gaston Counties, rose from an overall ranking of #75 in 2019 to #67 for 2020. On the website, www.americanfitnessindex.org, the full report and city-to-city metric comparisons can be viewed.
It is easy to assume that all the top cities are located in warm climates in the South and West, but that is not always the case. Minneapolis, Chicago, Boise, Boston, Madison, WI, and Buffalo all have performed very well over the years and risen in rankings. Minneapolis has even been ranked #1 in the past for their commitment to year-round physical activity and rich variety of publicly available amenities for physical activity.
Our region ranks well at #37 on personal health behaviors such as persons who’ve exercised in the past 30 days and who are meeting physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week. As far as active transportation is concerned, only 2.3% of the local population walks or bicycles to work, compared to the highest city of Boston with 17.7%. Only 3.2% of local residents use public transit to commute, compared to 55% in New York City, which is not that surprising they are #1. We are at #3 for pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents. We are low in access to farmers markets with only 6.9 markets per million residents. The Charlotte region scores poorly on the some of the community and built environment measures where we rank #97 out of 100. Examples where we are low and need to focus for improvement are in park access. For example, only 36% of the region has a park within a 10-minute walk, compared to cities like Boston or San Francisco where everyone is within a 10-minute walk to the park. We are far below in the numbers of parks per 1,000 residents and parks funding, and there have been some local conversations around improving equity in access to parks, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown when parks experienced a dramatic increased use.
In conclusion, there are many positives for our region in the report, but there are some areas where we need to improve. The American Fitness Index rankings can help leadership and community stakeholders set priorities for initiatives and funding, which will not only improve the rankings but make our region more sustainable and equitable.
Janet R. Wojcik, Ph.D., FACSM, is Professor and Program Director in exercise science at Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC, and member of the ESMMYC Leadership Team. She is Chair of the American College of Sports Medicine ActivEarth Task Force.e chair of the ActivEarth Task Force at Winthrop University, and a frequent collaborator with the BPCYC.