Fittest city? Boulder, Colo., once again tops the list

Image: A man jogs on a street freshly covered in snow on Jan. 31, 2014, in Boulder, Colo.
A man jogs on a street freshly covered in snow on Jan. 31, 2014, in Boulder, Colo. Boulder continues to have the lowest obesity rate in the nation.Brennan Linsley / Today

Once again, Boulder, Colo., claims the distinction of having the lowest obesity rate in the nation.

Since 2008, Gallup and Healthways have measured the nation’s obesity rates, and every year except 2009, Boulder has been the fittest community, with only 12.4 percent of its residents being obese. 

The Huntington-Ashland region encompassing West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, on the other hand, has the highest obesity rate in the nation, with 39.5 percent of its residents classified as obese.

“[The study] is part of a call to action,” says Dan Witters, research director of Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. “It’s increasing public awareness around this.”

In two areas of the United States — Huntington-Ashland and McEllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas — two out of five people are obese. When it comes to large major cities with over 1 million residents, Memphis weighed in as the most obese (31.9 percent of its population). 

The health care costs associated with obesity are staggering. An obese person, Witters says, spends $1,429 more annually on health care. For Boulder — the only area of 189 metro areas surveyed with less than 15 percent obesity — its residents spend about $56 million on obesity-related health care costs annually. Compare that to Evansville, Ky., a city of a similar size: With obesity rates hovering around 38 percent, that city's health care costs are nearly quadruple Boulder's — at about $190 million.

“Where obesity is really high, it can skyrocket the health care utilization," Witters says. "Even high well-being and low-obesity cities have plenty of room for improvement.”

The 2013 survey finds that Colorado and Montana were the least obese states, while Mississippi and West Virginia were the most obese. Three of Colorado’s areas, Boulder, Fort-Collins-Loveland, and Denver-Aurora, were in the top 10 of least obese regions in the nation. Witters says that people in low obesity cities exhibit many healthy behaviors including exercising more, eating healthier and smoking less. But a healthy attitude plays a big role, too.

“People [in low obesity cities] are much more optimistic that their city is getting better in terms of where to live,” Witters says.

Least obese U.S. communities

Boulder, Colo.

Naples-Marco Island, Fla.

Fort-Collins-Loveland, Colo.

Charlottesville, Va.

Bellingham, Wash.

San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.

Denver-Aurora, Colo.

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.

Barnstable Town, Mass.

Most obese U.S. communities

Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio

McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas

Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Maryland and West Virginia

Yakima, Wash.

Little Rock-N Little Rock-Conway, Ark.

Charleston, W.Va.

Toledo, Ohio

Clarksville, Tenn and Ky.