Friday, May 30, 2014

American Fitness Index Gives Milwaukee High Marks for Its Bikability and Farmers Markets

But the city's modest parks budget could be taking a toll on its health

By Nathaniel Scharping
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The American College of Sports Medicine recently ranked Milwaukee 32nd in its annual American Fitness Index. The index compares the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the nation in terms of personal health and community resources. Topping the list was Washington, D.C., with the Twin Cities second. Also in the top five were Portland, Ore., and Denver, Colo.

The rankings are based on individual metrics such as activity levels, overall fitness, disease and community indicators such as park space, use of public transportation and access to recreation centers. While Milwaukee’s personal health score hit the average at 25, our community health rank was much lower, underscored by a weak parks budget.

According to the report, Milwaukee’s strengths include walkability and bikeability and interestingly, farmers markets. The city fared much worse in the amount of both land and money allocated to the parks, smoking and rates of cardiovascular disease.

The report indicates that while Milwaukeeans seem to be pretty concerned about their health in general, staying even with the average for most health behavior indicators, disease and a lack of infrastructure are our main problems. Cities such as Washington D.C. and Portland had noticeably better scores for community-level factors such as park units, swimming pools and playgrounds, combined with better scores for chronic diseases.

As the report focuses on chronic diseases, health resources such as hospitals and clinics are left out in favor of recreation infrastructure. While several seemingly unnecessarily specific things like ball diamonds and farmers markets take precedence in the report, it does make a case for the correlation between parks and recreation spaces and levels of chronic diseases. Milwaukee seems to have the will, but is lacking a way.

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