How healthy are Kansas Citians and how health-promoting is the Kansas City area? Does our metro area promote our collective health or does it contribute to disease?

The American College of Sports Medicine American Fitness Index is an annual, “scientific snapshot of the state of health and fitness at a metropolitan level.” It gathers and analyzes information from the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S. to assess factors that influence health. Where do we in the Kansas City metro area rank?

Health and fitness in the Kansas City metro area, what do you know? T or F?

1. We have higher than average per capital expenses for parks.

2. We have lower than average rates of asthma and heart disease.

3. We walk or bike to work more than folks in other large cities.

Just what factors determine the overall health of an area? The ACSM based its survey on 2 main categories: personal health indicators and community/environment indicators. The personal health indicators were divided into health behaviors (for example diet, smoking, exercise) and chronic health problems (diabetes, heart disease, asthma, mental health). The community/environment indicators included park space, public transportation and recreation centers.

ACSM researchers culled information from a variety of health and governmental organizations including the CDC to gather information about the personal health, medical conditions and factors which influence health. Data included a spectrum of factors influencing health including access to primary care physicians, bike and hiking trails, parks and numbers of tennis courts. They crunched the data and came up with scores for individual and overall markers of health and fitness.

Washington, D.C., ranked at the very top of the ACSM-AFI survey. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Portland, Denver and San Francisco rounded out the top 5. The Kansas City metro area ranked 34 overall. We were ranked ahead of St. Louis (41). In the 2013 survey Minneapolis-St. Paul ranked number one and Kansas City ranked 28th.

Overall, we scored very well in some areas and not so well in others. On a per capita basis we met or exceeded targets for area of parkland, numbers of tennis courts, ball fields, playgrounds, golf courses and swimming pools. We did the same for number of farmer's markets, an indicator that the community collectively supports and promotes healthful eating.

We Kansas Citians are very proud of our fountains and our parks. And we put our money where our hearts are. The number and sizes of our park space exceeds per capita targets nationally. Our park-related expenses are about $113 per person annually exceeding the $101 per person target.

The ACSM-AFI report identifies our metro area weaknesses. These include markers of personal health, which is influenced greatly by community culture and infrastructure. For example we have relatively high rates of obesity, coronary heart disease, asthma and tobacco use. We scored lower than most other cities in meeting CDC recommended guidelines for aerobic and strength activity. In spite of our farmer's markets, most of us do not meet recommendations for 2 portions of fruits and 3 portions of vegetables daily.

A lower percentage of us use public transportation, bike or walk to work. We also have fewer recreation centers per capita than many other cities. The closing of a local YMCA affected many in our Eastern Jackson County area.

Overall, this report could serve as a resource for community planners and elected officials. The report includes a guideline on how to improve upon scores and make our area more conducive to personal health and fitness. You can access the ACSM-AFI report at

Answers: 1. T; 2. F; 3. F.

Dr. Lori Boyajian-O’Neill can be contacted at