- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The D.C. area was named the fittest of the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas Wednesday for the third consecutive year — a feat the authors of the ninth annual American Fitness Index (AFI) attribute largely to a drop in smoking among residents of the nation’s capital.

Analyzing factors such as exercise habits, health data and proximity to parks, this year’s report concluded that the D.C. region is the fittest from coast to coast for the third straight year.

Last year’s runner-up, Minneapolis-St. Paul, once again scored the second-place spot, while Denver jumped from the sixth slot to third.

While data collected from all three regions determined that residents in Washington, Minneapolis and Denver exercised more than others and enjoyed an abundance of parkland, the groups behind the report — the American College of Sports Medicine and the Anthem Foundation, the philanthropic arm of health insurer Anthem Inc. — said a lower rate of smoking in the nation’s capital “tipped the scales in its favor” for the top spot.

Only 12.6 percent of D.C.-area residents currently smoke tobacco products, according to the latest report, down from last year’s figure of 13.5 percent and below the target goal of 13.1 percent.

The authors of the study said the number of Americans nationwide who admit to smoking dropped by 4.7 percent from 2015. The latest report also discovered a 7.4 percent decrease among diabetes-related deaths nationwide compared with 2015, while at the same time witnessing an 11.8 percent spike across the board with regards to individuals who exercise at least one a month.

“That’s a huge increase. Usually we will see a 1 or 2 percent increase,” said Walter R. Thompson, chairman of the AFI advisory board.

Mary Anderson, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health, attributed the national capital region’s demographics for its fitness streak.

“The D.C. area in general is a well-educated community area and so people know the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and how physical activity is a part of that,” she said.

Ms. Anderson noted that Montgomery County’s health programs always emphasize anti-smoking. Anecdotally, she has noticed a decline in smoking rates.

“I certainly feel like there are less young people smoking,” she said. “I’m in my 50s. When I was growing up, we all smoked. I have a 21-year-old daughter, and I don’t know any of her friends who smoke. So I think that message is certainly getting out to the population.”

According to the AFI, 30 of the 50 largest metropolitan regions saw their health scores increase over last year’s numbers.

“The AFI has continually proven its value as a trusted measurement of the health of our metro areas, and it has also become a catalyst for urban and suburban leaders to shape infrastructures that promote healthy lifestyles and create positive outcomes,” Mr. Thompson said in a statement. “Our over-arching goal is to offer communities and residents resources that can help them assess, plan and implement measures for a quality, healthier life.”

Indianapolis was deemed the least fit major U.S. city in the survey, trailed by Oklahoma City; Louisville, Kentucky; and Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee.

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