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Brewing up good health

There’s no debating it: Milwaukee loves its beer. And a good Friday night fish fry.  And perhaps a cheese curd or two. Or three. Or four. That’s how we’re stereotyped, and we certainly don’t like to let people down.

For this reason, it’s likely the Land of Beer and Cheese raised some eyebrows recently when the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis metro area broke into the top 20 on the ninth annual American Fitness Index.

Published by the American College of Sports Medicine with support from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, the American Fitness Index provides a snapshot of the relative health of America’s 50 largest metro areas.

The rankings take into account a variety of health indicators and gauges, such as preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, health care access, and community resources and policies that support physical activity. Target benchmarks for each measure are established, so cities can see how they measure up both overall, as well as category by category with their peers. (You can check out Milwaukee’s scorecard here).

Around the country, the AFI data report has been used as an assessment and evaluation tool to educate community leaders on the importance of key indicators of physical activity. Leaders can then focus on policy, systems and environmental change (PSE) strategies that are evidence-based and create sustainability for the community.

Topping the American Fitness Index for the third consecutive year is Washington, D.C., closely followed by Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver.

These top metro areas showed increased walking by residents using public transportation; more parkland for exercise; and lower cardiovascular and diabetes issues than the other largest metropolitan areas in the country.  Washington, D.C.’s lower overall smoking rate tipped the scales in its favor, giving it the three-peat.

Lest you think Milwaukee’s strong showing in the 2016 American Fitness Index is the result of our Midwestern work ethic, clean air, or good genes, it should be pointed out that that our peers in the metro areas of Louisville, Oklahoma City and Indianapolis all found the bottom of the list.

In other words, Milwaukee’s strong showing isn’t dumb luck.

Milwaukee earned a total score of 54.2 out of 100 possible points.  Helping us move up the list was a 6.9 percent increase in the number of residents being physically active.

Jumping into the top 20, and moving up from our 2015 ranking of 33rd, is a great recognition for our entire community, including the local employers whose workplace wellness programs are supporting health improvement and promoting increased physical activity levels throughout the metro area.

To continue moving up the list, we should use this time of tremendous urban renewal to make Milwaukee a model for the nation.  Fortunately, there’s an Action Guide for that.

To aid cities of all sizes and metro areas in enhancing healthy lifestyles and promoting physical activity, American College of Sports Medicine and the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation developed the AFI Community Action Guide, offering an overview of the critical decisions and factors related to effective community action.

The Guide does not provide concrete solutions, but rather offers suggestions and parameters for how communities can arrive at policies and programs that make sense for their particular area.  The key takeaway from the Action Guide and the American Fitness index is that the choices we make in our businesses, homes and communities really do make a difference – even if each individual action may be too small to measure.

Onward and upward, Milwaukee.


2016 American Fitness Index rankings

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Paul Nobile President
Nobile is a 20-year veteran of the insurance industry whose experience includes time with Rush Prudential Health Plans, Aetna, and United Healthcare. Prior to joining Anthem, Nobile served as the Director of Sales and Account Management for the Midwest region at UniCare, a health benefits company based in Chicago and owned by Anthem’s parent company and also ran UniCare’s Eastern Region with offices.

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