Cities across the United States have been urging residents to engage in more physical activity in order to curb the growing obesity epidemic in the country.

Now, a new study from Gallup — in partnership with American wellness company Healthways — ranked which cities are most effective in helping citizens live actively.

Apparently, larger cities outrank smaller communities when it comes to active living, the survey found. It's mostly because of the difference in recreational opportunities, among many factors.

Healthy Cities

In the survey, researchers from Gallup evaluated infrastructure data taken from 48 cities in the U.S. and from surrounding areas.

The team evaluated which cities had the best "active living environments" by looking at bike lanes, public transit, parks and the level to which each city was walkable. They also reviewed phone interviews with residents to take into account the health effects of such environments.

In the end, the survey ranked Boston and its surrounding communities as the top "active living community" in the country, which researchers say is the result of investments in public areas such as parks and bike lanes.

Aside from Boston, other cities including San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. ranked second to fifth, respectively.

Lowest scores for active living environments were received by Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Durham, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The survey found that these cities tend to have higher rates of negative health conditions, such as obesity, depression, hypertension, smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol.

In contrast to the negative health conditions, the study found that cities with high park and bike lane scores have stronger links to low rates of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. A more effective public transportation system is also connected to lesser daily physical pain, the survey said.

Changes In Infrastructure

Still, researchers believe that smaller cities can make changes in their infrastructure and catch up to larger cities.

For instance, the community of Albert Lea in Minnesota boosted its well-being score when it established 10 miles of new sidewalks and bike lanes. This enhanced the walkability of streets and the opportunity for physical activity.

In addition, Albert Lea also drew up policies to reduce tobacco use and ensure that customers choose healthy when purchasing in grocery stores.

"Once again it confirms that lifestyle as medicine is truly the best and most reliable strategy approach to health and well-being," said Wellness Director Dr. Roy Buchinsky from University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Buchinsky, who did not participate in the study, said lifestyle has a clear effect on many health issues in the country. He hopes the report can explain why it is important to rethink development in cities and smaller communities to improve public health.

The new study was published as part of the Gallups-Healthways State of American Well-Being series.

Photo: Jeff Gunn | Flickr

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