Earlier this week, the American College of Sports Medicine released its new version of the American Fitness Index,
which tracks the health and fitness level of America's 50 largest
metropolitan regions. The index is defined as a "composite of
preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions,
health care access, and community resources and policies that support
physical activity." The table below shows the fitness levels for
these 50 metros.
Greater Washington, D.C. tops the list (for the third consecutive
year) followed by Boston, Minneapolis-St.Paul, Seattle, Portland,
Denver, Sacramento, San Francisco, Hartford, and Austin. At the
opposite side of the spectrum, the least-fit metros were Oklahoma City,
Birmingham, Memphis, Detroit, Louisville, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, San
Antonio, Houston, and New Orleans. Warm metros like L.A. and Miami do
worse than might be expected, while cold metros like Pittsburgh,
Baltimore, and Cincinnati do better.
With the help of my Martin Prosperity Institute
colleague Charlotta Mellander, we decided to take a look at the
relationships between the American Fitness Index and a variety of
regional characteristics from temperature levels to income and output,
educated people and knowledge-driven economies. As usual, I point out
in advance that our analysis points to association between variables
only. It does not imply causation, and other factors may complicate the
Climate and Temperature: Most people would think fitness
levels are higher in warm, sunnier places, and lower in cold places.
But that's not what we find, at all, when we examine the association
between metro fitness and various measures of climate and temperature.
First and foremost, we find no correlation between fitness and cold
locations, measured as mean January temperature. We also find no
correlation between fitness and the January to July temperature
difference. We do, however, find a significant correlation between
fitness and the hottest places, measured as mean July temperature: but
it is negative (-.52), meaning places that get really hot in July have
lower levels of fitness on average.
Income, Wages, and Output: Now, let's look at the
relationship between fitness levels and economic development. It stands
to reason that more affluent regions where residents have more
resources to devote to health and fitness would score better. And, not
surprisingly, that is what we find. We find a significant but moderate
relationship between metro-level fitness and economic output per capita
(.35), and between it and income (.41), and a somewhat higher
association between fitness and metropolitan wages (.54).
The scatter-graph below charts the relationship between fitness and
wages. The relationships are reasonably linear, and the line slopes
steeply upward. Greater Washington, D.C. performs even better than its
wage level would predict. The same is true for Minneapolis and Seattle,
Portland and Denver, and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. I personally found
Pittsburgh a fantastic place for road-cycling during my time there. On
the other hand, San Francisco, San Jose, and L.A., as well as Detroit,
Oklahoma City, and Memphis, are significantly below it, performing
worse than their wage levels might predict.
Post-Industrial Economic Structures: Our ongoing research
suggests that post-industrial economic structures play an additional
role in health and well-being, over and above the effects of economic
resources. This entails the shift from physically oriented work to
knowledge, professional, and creative occupations and industries -- and
from lower-skilled to more highly skilled and educated workforces.
Human Capital: Metros with more highly educated populations
have higher levels of fitness, again not surprisingly. The correlation
between fitness and human capital
(measured as the percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree or
higher, .66) is the strongest of any of the variables we looked at.
The scatter-graph above shows a fairly linear relationship, with a
steep upward slope. Greater Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Seattle,
Portland, Denver, and Cincinnati are significantly above the line, with
higher levels of fitness relative to their human capital levels, while
San Jose, Raleigh, Charlotte, L.A., Indianapolis, and Oklahoma City are
considerably below it with fitness levels that are worse than what
their human capital levels would predict.
Creative Class: Metro-level fitness is also associated with the creative class
-- that is the percentage of residents in science and technology; arts,
design, media, and entertainment; and management and professional
occupations. The correlation between the two is .59 -- the
second-strongest among the variables in our analysis.
The scatter-graph above shows a fairly linear relationship.
Washington, D.C. rests close to the fitted line -- its fitness levels
are more or less in line with the proportion of its workforce in the
creative class. San Francisco is now above the line, along with Boston,
Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Denver, and, once again, Cincinnati. On
the other hand, L.A. again is well below the line, along with
Charlotte, Indianapolis, Houston, Detroit, and Oklahoma City, with
fitness levels that are worse than their creative class levels would
Working Class: The correlation between metro fitness and the
percentage of the workforce in blue-collar, working-class occupations
is also relatively strong. But it is negative (-.58). The fitted line
slopes steeply downward. Metros with large blue-collar workforces have
significantly lower levels of fitness.
America's metropolitan areas vary considerably in their fitness
levels. That variation, like many other characteristics of cities and
metropolitan areas, is anything but random: instead, it follows
systematic and predictable patterns. Fitter metros are relatively more
affluent, more highly skilled, and have significantly greater
concentrations of the creative class. Generally speaking then, fitness
appears to go hand in hand with the transition to more highly skilled,
knowledge-intensive, and idea-driven post-industrial economic
structures. It's not just skill or human capital levels that are increasingly spiky and uneven across the United States but fitness levels as well.
If we're really serious about improving the health and fitness
levels of people in many of our populous cities and metros, we'll have
to do more than invoke them to smoke less, eat better, and exercise
more. We'll also have to facilitate a deeper and more thorough ongoing
economic transformation -- developing greater skills, improving human
capital levels, and enhancing the transition from blue-collar to more
knowledge-driven economic structures.