As a leader in sports medicine and exercise science, ACSM uses its research expertise to provide the 2015 American Fitness Index report as a reliable measure of community fitness for the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.
Cities that ranked near the top of the index have more strengths that support healthy living and fewer challenges that hinder it.
The opposite is true for cities near the bottom of the index.
In this segment (Part 2 of 2), Walter R. Thompson, PhD, discusses the 2015 American Fitness Index Report and what it means to you.
RadioMD Presents: Train Your Body | Original Air Date: May 19, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Walter R. Thompson, PhD
Train Your Body. Here is exercise physiologist, Melanie Cole, MS.
MELANIE: The American Fitness Index data reports measures these metropolitan areas and provides a score and a ranking that reflects the preventive health behaviors of the communities, the level of chronic disease conditions, the access to quality healthcare, community resources, policies that support physical activity, which includes recess in gym and park districts, and golf courses and public pools. And, again, I'm always blown away. You cannot imagine what goes in to creating this report.
And my guest is Dr. Walter Thompson. He is a Regents’ Professor of Exercise Science in the Department of Kinesiology at Georgia State University, one of my favorite guests here on Train Your Body. So, Dr. Thompson, let's talk about some of the guys at the bottom here. We talked about Indianapolis a little. Memphis, Tennessee, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Louisville, Nashville, Birmingham. What are these guys doing? They are spending less per person on recreation. What else are they doing? Is it their smoking policies, are they cutting gym and recess? Do they have not great access to healthcare? What are they doing?
DR THOMPSON: The answer to that question is “yes” to all of those that you just mentioned. All of these cities that fall in the bottom of the American Fitness Index, those that are chronically at the bottom, and you just named them, all have the same kinds of characteristics. I mentioned before this park-related expenditure is true of every city. And I know we focused on Indianapolis earlier but it's true of the bottom five, from Nashville, Louisville, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Memphis and, of course, Indianapolis. All spent less on their parks than the top cities.
This second characteristic that is quite unique, and, Melanie, you and I have talked about this before. And that is the opportunity to get our kids physically active. In all of the top cities, there is a physical education requirement in the public schools through high school. In all of the bottom cities, there is no requirement for physical education in our schools past the fifth grade. So, when a kid gets into middle school, and into high school in these lower ranked cities, they’re not exposed to physical education and they lose the appreciation for being physically active. And guess what? That carries into adulthood as well.
So, it's no surprise that these two things that we just talked about, policy for school physical education and park related expenditures per resident, are chronically low for the lower ranked cities and chronically high for the higher ranked cities.
MELANIE: Dr. Thompson, are they also cutting these gyms and recess things because they feel they need to spend more time on academics, mathematics, when we know kids need to get their beans out or they can't think straight. Do you have studies that say whether they are doing that for academics and is it resulting in higher academics? Because it would seem to me that some of those communities also have low scores in their math testing and such.
DR THOMPSON: Well, they do and in the state of Georgia just a couple of years ago, we actually tried to legislate physical education back into the school system. That is, we tried to get the state legislature to create a law.
MELANIE: God, you shouldn’t have to do that.
DR THOMPSON: No, we shouldn’t have to do that, but we felt that we needed to do that and it’s happening all over the country--that we’re forcing these kids now to learn and you’ve heard the word “STEM”. And sometimes it's called “STEAM” when they want an appreciation for art. But most of the time we are forcing this STEM agenda, which is not a bad agenda, as long as kids also get an opportunity to be physically active. Let me tell you about this very unscientific study that I did. My daughter is a second grade school teacher, public school teacher. Second grade--so there's a physical education requirement in the state of Georgia for physical education in elementary schools. So I asked her, "Do your kids have physical education?" And she said, "Yes." Then I said, "Well, for how long?" And she said, "30 minutes." And I'm thinking to myself, “That’s great, 30 minutes a day.” And then she quickly followed up by saying, “30 minutes a week.”
MELANIE: Yes. Once a week.
DR THOMPSON: Once a week for 30 minutes, and you know when you corral second graders, that’s going to take 15 minutes to get them to the gym. They do a physical activity program for about five minutes and it takes another 10 or 15 minutes to get back to class. So even when there's the physical education requirement, we’re not doing a great job in teaching these kids how to be chronically, physically inactive throughout adulthood.
MELANIE: Well, and, I think, as you say, it’s a role model situation and if they see…So, if in your community, your school is cutting these for STEM. And, as you said, we need that. It's good, it's giving them technology and science and art, music and all of these things. But there has to be room for all of it. And I think that there is. My kids are getting both of it. We are in a good community here but I know that my kids would go crazy if they didn’t have their physical activity in the day. They just would be squiggling around, like they'll got those schpilkas all day long. They wouldn’t even be able to sit still.
So, there has to be room for all of it. But the role modeling, Dr. Thompson. If they see it’s a community where you can't be smoking around doorways, where the park district is offering fitness classes all over the place. So, tell us just a little bit more about some of these other places that are not doing well. Does that include fattening food and these regulations on smoking? Do these tend to be in communities where they say, “Leave us alone. Don’t regulate our government. Don’t regulate my personal space.” Is it political I guess?
DR THOMPSON: And the answer is “no”. People who live in the cities that fall in the bottom of the American Fitness Index list are not happy. And I'm going to give you a great example of this. Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, when he became mayor, the American Fitness Index ranked Oklahoma City at number 50. He was not happy about that, because he adopted an active lifestyle. He put the City of Oklahoma City on a diet in about 2008 when the first American Fitness Index came out. He put the city on a diet and they lost a million pounds.
DR THOMPSON: And he continues to be the mayor and he continues to push the physical activity agenda. He is involved in all of these community-based road races and things like that. A great of example of a leader who leads the kind of lifestyle we would like for them to lead. Now, Oklahoma City is no longer number 50. It’s 48, but it’s inching its way up the American Fitness Index. And if we could just keep the weather under control in Oklahoma City because they had some tornados that came through there, which sets some of these public policy agendas back.
MELANIE: Back a little.
DR THOMPSON: But as long as Mayor Mick Cornett is there and as long as the city -- and we met with them, and all of them said, “Yes, we need to make some changes,” and they have done exactly that.
MELANIE: See that’s cool when you say they lost a million pounds. And that it's not political that they are not saying, “We don’t care how we rank,” because I would think that there would be a little bit of that. Don’t regulate my smoking. Don’t do that. Don’t take these things away from me. But I'm glad to hear that that’s not the case. In just the last minute: best advice, website, for people listening about the American Fitness Index for 2015.
DR THOMPSON: Well, we are certainly indebted to the Anthem Foundation who provides the funding to allow us to do the American Fitness Index each and every year. We look forward to talking with folks like you, Melanie, and others in media across the country, about the good things and some of the not so good things that are happening in communities. But most important, if folks who live in these cities are not happy with the American Fitness Index ranking, go to our website americanfitnessindex.org, download the community action plan and make some significant changes in your own communities.
MELANIE: Great advice. Absolutely great advice. Go to americanfitnessindex.org and look for your community, look for your city. And then, you can click on the map and it will tell you the ranking and why. It will tell you what's going on in your community, and that’s how you can figure out how you can get involved to change some of those things. And you can download the action guide for free and use that also as a good guideline on how to make those changes.
You’re listening to Train Your Body, absolutely motivate and perform, with the American College of Sports Medicine right here on Radio MD. Thanks for listening and stay well.