Houston, You've Got a Problem
Tops magazine's list of fattest cities for 2d straight year
FRIDAY, Jan. 11, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- You may be thin as a rail, but if you live in the Midwest or South, there's a fairly good chance that your city is fat -- at least according to Men's Fitness.
The magazine has come out with its annual ranking of the country's fattest and fittest places, besmirching the reputations of such burgs as Houston, Chicago, Detroit, San Antonio, Tex., and Dallas.
Figuring out who's been nutritionally naughty is a difficult task, and the magazine's methods are not exactly scientific. But diet experts like the fat-and-fit lists because they bring attention to the nation's expanding waistlines.
"It's just another reinforcement to Americans that a lot of us are really fat," says Heidi Reichenberger, a nutrition consultant in Boston, which placed No. 10 on the list of fittest cities.
"It gives people something to think about, how their overall environment may help promote a more fit lifestyle or discourage it," agrees Ruth Patterson, a scientist who studies how people think about dieting at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Despite its reputation as a dreary, rainy place, Seattle turned up as No. 4 on the list of fittest cities, even though its climate only got a C rating. The editors at Men's Fitness looked at a variety of factors other than weather to make their rankings, including air and water quality, number of fast-food outlets and fitness gyms, and even the level of TV viewership.
Colorado Springs, Colo., topped the list of fittest cities, displacing San Diego from its usual spot at the top. The city got raves for its air and water quality, low rates of obesity and TV watching, short commutes, and extremely high sports participation levels.
Cities on the West Coast and in the Rocky Mountains were most likely to top the list of fittest cities.
San Diego ranked in third place this year, behind Colorado Springs and Denver, and followed by Seattle, San Francisco, and Virginia Beach, Va., in that order.
Houston got the dishonor of being the fattest city for the second year in the row. The magazine rapped it for its horrendously bad air, high levels of TV viewership, and low levels of sports participation.
However, Men's Fitness did give Houston credit for adopting new programs to encourage fitness.
Other cities ranking high on the fattest list are also urban centers. After Houston, the other top cities, from fattest to less fat, are Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas, Columbus, Ohio, and San Antonio, Tex.
Patterson pointed out that the list is quite subjective. While the climate of her city got an average rating, it's actually much better for some outdoor activities -- like rowing and biking -- than other places "where it's so hot that you can't go outside," she says.
Several of the cities on the fattest list have populous urban neighborhoods. Many residents may not have parks nearby or be unable to afford a gym membership, says Jo Ann Hattner, a nutritionist in Palo Alto, Calif., and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
"They don't have the opportunities that people in some of the other cities have," she says. "It's not just what you eat, it's how much exercise you are able to get in your community."
Will the ratings make any difference in people's lives? Experts are skeptical.
"It can raise awareness, but it's pretty far removed from anything that's directly likely to motivate change," Patterson says. "The fact is that we've discovered precious little that works when it comes to weight loss."
However, the cities themselves are paying attention. When Philadelphia topped the fat list in 2000, Mayor John Street began a citywide program to lose weight.
Last year, he launched the "76 Tons of Fun" campaign aimed at dropping that many pounds. About 25,000 people took part, says mayoral spokeswoman Luz Cardenas. Together, they lost about 6,000 pounds, but failing to shed 76 tons was less important than getting a community involved in improving its health, she says.
"It was a program about awareness and changing your lifestyle habits, not necessarily about losing weight," Cardenas says. "We had a lot of fun, and we felt that people had come forward to pay attention to the program."
Officials from Houston visited Philadelphia last summer to pick up some pointers, Cardenas says.
Street -- who was once 75 pounds overweight before becoming a fitness buff -- wants the campaign to continue. And Cardenas says he practices what he preaches: At staff meetings, employees won't find cheese steaks, but they will find low-fat muffins, fruit and lots and lots of water.
What To Do
How does your city rank on the fat/fit scale? Check out the Men's Fitness list.
To see how the City of Brotherly Love responded to its dubious title as the magazine's fattest city of 2000, visit the 76 Tons of Fun site.
Get a free daily tip on nutrition from the American Dietetic Assocation.