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Louisville Ranks 49th in Fitness Among U.S. Metro Areas, Report Says

City officials say they weren't surprised by a recent report ranking the Louisville area's fitness 49thout of 50 American metro areas.To compile the American Fitness Index,the American College of Sports Medicine said it considered preventive health behaviors, chronic disease levels, access to healthcare and policies that support physical activity.The report accounts for Jefferson County, along with eight nearby Kentucky counties and four counties in Indiana.Memphis ranked 50th.Cathy Harrison, spokeswoman  for Metro Health and Wellness, said despite the ranking, the city has good initiatives aimed at improving residents' health."We’ve been moving in the right direction, but all that stuff takes time,” she said. Harrison said policies that would eliminatefood deserts,boost physical education in school and lower  smoking rates would help Louisville become a healthier city.Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he was saddened by the rankings.He said smokers need to stop smoking and all residents need to take responsibility for maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle.“We all want to live a good long life, so put a little into it every day,” he said.That's advice Andy Murphy took literally.  Murphy was a two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker for 35 years and was diagnosed with mild emphysema in 2006, he said.But he quit smoking after looking into the long term effects emphysema. He said it was the best thing he has ever done."I'm healthier for it now," he said. Related: A 'Poster Child' for Improving Fitness in LouisvilleHe also puts a little bit towards his health everyday by riding a bicycle.The report said 73 percent of Louisville residents participated in “any physical activity or exercise” in the past 30 days.  It also said less than a quarter of residents eat two or more fruits a day, while a mere 12 percent get the recommended daily dose of vegetables.Chronic disease is also a major concern for the Louisville area. Nearly a third of residents are considered obese, 10 percent are diagnosed diabetic and for every 100,000 residents, just more than 200 die annually because of cardiovascular disease, the report said.As for recreational facilities, Louisville has less than the recommended amount, except golf courses and tennis courts.  And Louisville spends $38 per resident for city park expenditures, far below the $101 recommendation and even further below the $398 spent by Washington D.C., the city that tops the American Fitness Index rankings, the report said.The American College of Sports Medicine said the report is not meant to point fingers at cities and metro areas struggling in fitness—instead, it should be used as a measuring stick so communities can gauge their progress.Harrison, of Health and Wellness, says she is still hopeful that the area won’t always have distressing health stats.She pointed to the Mayor’s Healthy Louisville 2020 plan, that lays out systemic changes residents and city leaders can make to help transform the environment of fitness and longevity.  But  issues such as obesity and smoking develop over time for people—and improving health may also take time, she said."It’s just going to take us a while to get on the right track,” she said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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