Good Health Habits the Norm in Slimmest U.S. Metro Areas

by Elizabeth Mendes

Metro areas in Colorado and California dominate list of 10 least obese places

Gallup and Healthways started collecting BMI data as part of the Well-Being Index in January of 2008 and surveyed in 187 metro areas in 2009 alone. This is the second article in a two-part series reviewing the most and least obese metro areas in the United States. Gallup revealed the 10 most obese metro areas in part one of this series.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- America's 10 least obese metro areas boast an average obesity rate of 18.7% -- 15.1 percentage points lower than that of the nation's 10 most obese places and significantly better than the national average.


Fort Collins/Loveland, Colo., has the lowest obesity rate of any metropolitan area in the country, at 16.0%, followed closely by Boulder, Colo., at 16.6%. Four Colorado metro areas rank among the 10 least obese places, as do four areas in California.


Gallup calculates Body Mass Index (BMI) results using respondents' self-reported height and weight. Americans with a BMI of 30 or above are considered obese. Gallup polled adults aged 18 and older in 187 metro areas in 2009 and the full results are available on page two.

Healthy Behaviors Abound in Least Obese Metro Areas

Healthy behaviors are common among residents of the 10 least obese metro areas. Nine of the 10 areas rank in the top third of the Gallup-Healthways Healthy Behavior Index, which measures exercise, eating, and smoking habits. Majorities of residents in each of the 10 least obese places report that they ate healthy "yesterday," eat fruits and vegetables frequently, and exercise regularly. Half or more of residents in all of the least obese areas report exercising for at least 30 minutes three or more days per week. This stands in contrast to the nation's 10 most obese metro areas, where in all but one less than half report exercising at the same frequency. Smoking rates are also lower than the national average across all but one of the least obese areas.


While individual healthy behaviors are critical to reducing obesity, conditions within a community also play a major role. The Gallup-Healthways Basic Access Index finds that residents in almost all of the nation's least obese metro areas report above-average levels of access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables, having a safe place to exercise, having enough money to buy food, and having health insurance. It's easy to see why residents in the least obese places report high levels of exercise as they all report having a safe place to exercise at a rate higher than the national average.


Nation's Thinnest Places in Tiptop Physical Health

All of the least obese metro areas in the U.S. have diabetes levels lower than the national average. Heart attacks are also less frequently reported in each of the least obese areas. Eating right and exercising appears to be paying off in America's least obese communities not only in terms of lower obesity levels, but also in preventing costly chronic conditions.


Bottom Line

Among the 10 least obese metro areas surveyed, Boulder is a standout, performing the best across the board on Gallup and Healthway's indexes measuring healthy behaviors, community conditions, and physical health. Residents there are among the most likely in the country to get frequent exercise, and at 5.0%, are among the least likely of citizens in any of the 187 metro areas surveyed to have diabetes. To compare, the metro area with the highest level of reported diabetes is McAllen/Edinburg/Mission, Texas, at 18.9%. It is also worth noting that Boulder tops all U.S. metro areas in overall wellbeing.

Boulder and the nine other areas that accompany it as the nation's 10 least obese places can serve as examples from which other communities can learn. Still, even the 16.0% obesity rate in the least obese place in the country as recorded by Gallup today is slightly higher than the obesity levels reported by the government in the United States in the 1980s, suggesting that the country has a long way to go to reverse the enormous increase in obesity rates of the past 30 years.

Learn more about the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with more than 353,000 American adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2009.

For annual results based on the stated total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±0.2 percentage points.

The Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) that are characterized in this article are defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Maximum expected error ranges for the MSAs vary according to size, ranging from ±6.2% in small metro areas (n=350) to ±4.1% in medium/large metro areas (n=800).

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only and cell phone mostly).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index™

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measures the daily pulse of U.S. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.


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