What Are America's Unhealthiest Cities?

Image courtesy of lordwikket

Using consumer spending data on fitness, sweets, and fast food, we are able to get a big picture of America's least healthy cities.


According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of all US adults (35.7%) are obese. That's more than 40 million Americans, 3 million of whom are considered to be morbidly obese (those who have a BMI of more than 35—with some wiggle room depending on your body frame). To put that number in some context, if all the morbidly obese Americans got together and formed their own state, it would be the 31st most populous state right between Iowa and Mississippi.

And if all those adults who were merely obese (those with a BMI of over 30) started their own state, it would be the nation's most populous state, besting California by three million.

Obesity-related illnesses are the number two cause of avoidable disease. As of 2008, obesity-related health costs were estimated to be $147 billion, and cost obese individuals $1,429 more than their non-obese counterparts.

But these obesity rates aren't equally distributed equally around the country.

According to data from the CDC there's a kind of vertical obese belt crossing the country from Texas on up into Michigan.  The lowest rates of obesity were in the corners of the country in the Northeast and the Southwest. Among individual states, the highest prevalence of self-reported obesity was in Mississippi where 34.9% of residents consider themselves obese. The lowest was Colorado where 20.7% residents consider themselves to be scale-tippers.

Obese Cities

There are several reasons thought to contribute to the obesity epidemic. A big one is an increasingly sedentary lifestyle due to the spread of mechanized transportation and a greater prevalence of automated labor. Another important part is how the availability of food has fallen so dramatically over the past decade, particularly in modern industrialized nations.

And since we haven't been given a new genetic code in the past century, our caveman bodies continue to desperately hold on to every calorie out of fear that the next hunting season may not be as bountiful.

The Big Numbers

We here at Bundle are big giant nerds, who just love diving headfirst into the big vats of data that is the underpinning of everything. Ev-er-y-thing.

Using our wealth of consumer spending data culled from aggregated and anonymized credit card transactions, we delved into nationwide fitness and eating habits and found data that seems to both support and contradict the formation of America's obese belt between connecting the South and Midwest.

fitness, gym, workout

For example, when we looked at the spending habits of the top 100 largest cities, we found a large number of households who spend the most on fitness were located in the obese belt. The top 15 sporting goods shops near you to help you stay fit.

The city that spent the most was Dallas, Texas where the average household spent 24% over the national fitness spending average. Texas has a state-wide obesity rate of 30.4%, but you wouldn't know that to look at our top 15 highest fitness-spending cities, which include three from the Lone Star state:

Cities that spend the most on fitness:  

  1. Dallas, TX
  2. Chicago, IL
  3. Fort Wayne, IN
  4. Arlington, VA
  5. Plano TX
  6. Scottsdale, AZ
  7. Columbus, OH
  8. Omaha, NE
  9. Cleveland, OH
  10. Virginia Beach, VA
  11. Boston, MA
  12. Saint Paul, MN
  13. Washington, DC
  14. Fort Worth, TX
  15. Charlotte, NC

Click here to see the full infographic

Are We What We Eat?

First, we turned our attention to ice cream, one of America's most celebrated high-caloric sweets. Our survey of the most ice cream crazy cities found, once again, there was a disconnect between who spent the most on this decidedly unhealthy treat and who lives in the obese belt. In fact the top 10 most ice cream crazy cities reflect an evenly distributed cross-section of the country as a whole.

Cities that spend the most on ice cream: 

  1. Long Beach, CA
  2. Dallas, TX
  3. Philadelphia, PA
  4. Columbus, OH
  5. Milwaukee, WI
  6. Fort Worth, TX
  7. Washington, DC
  8. Bakersfield, CA
  9. Fresno, CA
  10. Portland, OR

Click here to see the full list.

There was, however, one matrix that did correlate to the most obese regions of the country. And that's Fast Food. As you can see, the cities that spent the most on fast food are all located in the obese belt.

fast food infographic

Click here to see infographic in high resolution

As you can see, fast food intake certainly appears to have a very strong correlation to the obesity rate.

Though, you'll also notice one very strange finding in our data. Plano, TX is the fifth highest spending fitness city, but it is also the number one city in regards to fast food spending, taking in 2.3 times the national average.

We should also note that Plano has an adult obesity rate of 24%, which is lower than Texas as a whole.

Perhaps Ol' Plano is a lesson to the rest of us: take a trip to the McDonald's every so often if you must, but just make sure you hit the gym at some point to make up for it.

Graph by CDC
Workout photo by CherryPoint

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Evan Dashevsky is the Editor of Bundle.com, follow him @haldash