As the percentage of obese adults in the United States has surged to 36.5% and many lifestyles have become more sedentary, scientists and government organizations have researched healthy and unhealthy behaviors across the country, especially in major metropolitan areas.
While it is difficult to precisely define “good health,” the Center for Disease Control has identified five factors that can improve or hurt one’s health. These factors include: BMI, physical activity, sleep, smoking patterns, and drinking habits.
The first criteria, BMI, or Body Mass Index, measures a person’s body fat in relation to his/her height and weight. A BMI in the 18.5 – 24.9 range is considered “normal” and healthy, while a BMI over 30 is considered “obese.” BMI is largely determined by diet and exercise.
The other four criteria are behaviors, all of which can influence BMI and overall health. Physical activity, such as cardiovascular exercise (or even walking rather than driving), has numerous benefits including weight loss, reduced risk of disease, improved mental health, and increased lifespan.
Getting ample sleep – now defined as 7 or more hours per night – can also improve alertness, reduce fatigue, and boost overall mood. Smoking and binge drinking can negatively affect health, often causing organ damage, higher levels of stress, and even physical or mental dependence.
Using these criteria, researchers at ConsumersAdvocate.org decided to see which big cities had the healthiest habits in the nation. California dominates the list, but a common theme throughout is that most of these healthy cities offer convenient access to the great outdoors.
Behavioral health data was sourced from the Center for Disease Control’s 2017 release of the 500 Cities project, while “Total Population” was collected from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2016 5-year estimates.
In the overall “Health Score,” each behavioral health metric was weighted equally. For each city, a total score was calculated by summing its healthy percentages for each behavioral question. The resulting total scores were then converted to a 100-point scale. Cities with fewer than 500,000 people were filtered out.
Here are the ten cities with the healthiest habits in the United States:
Standing alone as the only East Coast city to make this list, Charlotte has made a big push in recent years to increase the city’s overall health by increasing access to farmers markets and outdoor spaces.
The most populous city on the list, Los Angeles is well-known for its sunny weather and beautiful beaches. While the city has a low percentage of residents that occasionally binge drink, it also suffers the most from from lack of sleep – the city has the lowest percentage of people that get seven or more hours of sleep per night.
Well-known for its warm weather and expansive park system, Austin boasts an active population that enjoys outdoor recreation. Mountain biking, swimming, rock climbing, and kayaking are all popular activities in this Texas city.
The smallest city on this list, Albuquerque boasts a sunny climate and a peaceful ambience that draws people outside and fosters a culture that values physical activity. Surprisingly, Albuquerque had the highest percentage of smokers on the list while also having the lowest percentage of binge drinkers – an outlier in the data, considering all other cities have a higher percentage of drinkers than smokers.
In recent years, Portland has developed a reputation as a health-conscious, yoga-loving, kale-eating city. Portland’s many farmers markets encourage a farm-to-table, organic diet, while the city’s overall walkability offers a convenient form of exercise. It’s no surprise then that Portland ranks second on the list for percentage of physically active adults.
San Diego is known for its beautiful weather, healthy food, and easy access to outdoor activities such as surfing, hiking, biking, and sailing. While a large percentage of its population partakes in binge drinking, the percentage of smokers is lower than in most cities.
Situated close to the Rocky Mountains, this city of hikers and adventurers is one of the most physically active in the country. Despite being called the “Mile High City,” Denver is flat and easily walkable and bikeable. People from Denver are also more likely than other cities on the list to get at least seven hours of sleep.
With its proximity to the beach, plethora of public parks, and mild weather year-round, it’s no surprise the city boasts a healthy population. San Francisco has the healthiest BMI of all the cities on the list, indicating a strong combination of physical exercise and good nutrition. However, San Francisco also has the largest percentage of binge-drinking adults on the list.
Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose is both an economic and health-and-fitness powerhouse. San Jose has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country, and offers easy access tos recreation centers, parks, and other places for physical activity. The city’s high salaries also allow consumers to make healthier eating choices.
Seattle is the most physically active city on the list, with fourteen percent of its population commuting to work by bike or on foot. Seattle’s young, well-educated demographic also values exercise and good nutrition, and the city’s abundant green space and mild climate encourage people to spend time outside.