Nashville, you may have lost a step in the last year. Or maybe five.
The city dropped from 27th place to 32nd in 2013  in the American Fitness Index, a ranking of the health and fitness status of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. produced by the American College of Sports Medicine.
The organization measured the Davidson-Rutherford-Williamson area, which scored a 44.5 out of 100 possible points, just above Phoenix and right behind St. Louis. Nashville’s highest score out of 100 was 47.8 in 2010 and its best ranking (23rd) came in 2008, the first year the survey came out.
“I have looked at rankings of a lot of our regional peer cities, and we are typically ranked higher than most of those and I think that is a trend that cities outside the South seem to be ranked higher,” said Gary Gaston, Design Director at the Nashville Civic Design Center. “It is reassuring that Nashville is well ranked among cities in the South and I know that a lot of cities across the country have been focusing on health issues recently. It might not be that we haven’t done a lot, but a lot of other cities may have jumped us in the ranking because of things they are doing in their communities.”
This is the sixth year of the report and it assesses preventative health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, health care access and community resources and policies that encourage healthy and fit lifestyles.
Roseann Lyle is an advisory board member for the American Fitness Index and said the rankings come from nationally available data from different resources.
“This is somewhat unique in that it does emphasize physical activity more than some other rankings,” said Lyle. “The goal is to provide a data report and resources for communities to try to take advantage of and work toward improvements. The report may also allow them to make partnerships in their communities in order to help them make positive changes.”
The areas in which Nashville meets or exceeds the study’s target goal are: a lower percentage of days when mental health was not good during the past 30 days, more golf courses per capita, more tennis courts per capita and higher level of state requirement for physical education classes.
According to the 2010 index, Nashville’s strengths included higher park-related expenditures per capita, a higher percentage of people eating 5 or more servings of fruits/vegetables per day and a lower unemployment rate. These are not among Nashville’s strengths in 2013.
The report also includes benchmarks for each data indicator to highlight things that need improvement.
Common themes in the improvement priority areas are: Nashville consistently has a higher percentage of smokers, fewer parks per capita, lower percentage of people using public transportation to work, and lower percentage of any physical activity or exercise in the last 30 days.
“We are working on a lot of stuff regarding this topic at the design center,” Gaston said. "We have been involved for two years with a project called Shaping Healthy Communities, which is a three-year initiative that looks at Davidson County and makes recommendations on how to become a healthier city."
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