The 10 Worst Cities for Heart Health in America

There is so much information available on how to keep our hearts healthy. Of course we all would prefer to have a healthy heart, but how many of us actually take action on this? Is it just too easy to pick up hamburgers from the drive-thru vs. cook a healthy meal at home? Does where we live force us to drive a car to work instead of walk or bike?

We took a look at data across the US to get a better feel for their state of heart health. Is your city holding back your potential for better heart health? We ranked the heart health of the top 50 most populated US cities in America using five heart healthy categories.

Heart Health Data Analyzed:

The obesity rate – Obesity is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease risk and heart disease, so the lower this rate is, the better its citizens are as a whole.

Percentage of people who bike or walk to work – Sitting in a car or a bus during your work commute is time without exercise in addition to sitting at your cubicle all day long. Even though biking or walking is not always possible, we analyzed this data across all cities to gauge heart health.

Percentage of people who smoke – Smoking tobacco products greatly increases the risk for heart disease, heart attack, COPD, and stroke (among other health problems). The fewer people there are smoking, the even fewer number of folks are affected by their second-hand smoke too.

Number of gyms per capita – A higher number of gyms in a city is a sign that there are more people looking for a place to work out. We divided the number of gyms by the population to more fairly compare this number across different population sizes.

Number of fast food restaurants per capita – This is just like the number of gyms criteria, but with the opposite effect. The more fast food restaurants available to a city’s citizens, the more likely people are to stop in and get a quick, cheap, UN-heart healthy meal. This number is also divided by the population in each respective city.

Data Sources:

  • The American Fitness Index
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Gallup-Healthways
  • The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes – Cardiovascular Health Study
  • Bike Walk Alliance
  • The United States Census Bureau – American Fact Finder

Ranking Methodology:

Cities were given a score from 1 to 50 (higher scores were better for each category). Each category score was added across the five groups to reach a total heart health rank. The 50 most populous cities in the US were then placed in numerical order to reveal the top the heart-healthiest cities in America.

The 10 lowest scoring cities in the US for heart health are:

10. Baltimore, Maryland

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Despite world-class hospitals, citizens of Baltimore have some of the lowest heart health measures in the nation. What really hurt the city was the low number of gyms but high number of fast food restaurants. As Edgar Allen Poe never said, “Quoth the raven, exercise more.”

9. Dallas, Texas

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Everything is bigger in Texas except for the amount of vegetables its citizens eat, apparently. Dallas, Texas is struggling with a Texas-sized obesity problem with ultra-high rates of obesity. Maybe the cheap gas makes people drive everywhere, but virtually no one in Dallas walks or bikes to work. For these reasons and more, Dallas comes in eighth on our list of American cities with the worst heart health.

8. Cleveland, Ohio

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Cleveland Rocks! But it doesn’t walk (or go to the gym). The city on Lake Erie also has more than its share of smokers. I suppose it is a good thing that the Cleveland Clinic arguably has the best heart care center in the world, because if Cleveland doesn’t shape up, its citizens are going to need it.

7. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Smoking and fast food really dragged Tulsa down on our list. They had the second highest percentage of smokers and the third highest number of fast food places per resident. On the bright side, Tulsa outperformed its 2015 Walk Score. The city ranks 33rd for walkability and 32nd for bikeability, but comes in 27th for number of people who walk/bike to work. The number of gyms per capita in Tulsa actually ranked in the top 10 highest but obesity rates were near the bottom.

6. Fresno, California

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Fresno has the unfortunate distinction of being the only California city on the Worst 10 list. This is made even worse by the fact that five of the 10 heart healthiest cities (including number 1) were in golden state. Fresno is just not set up for human-powered commuting like other Cali towns. It had the third fewest walker/biker commuters in the country. Fresno has a large number of citizens who are obese, a relative oddity in California cities. Fresno, California comes in at number 6 on our list.

5. Columbus, Ohio

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

The capital city of Ohio is known for being the home of The Ohio State Buckeyes and, now, for holding on to number 5 on our list. Maybe the fast food restaurants are all for the college students, but we don’t think so. What really set the city back were the high rates of smoking and obesity. Next year, make the Scarlet and Gray proud by getting off this un-healthy list.

4. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Sorry Oklahoma City, but you made the list at number 4. There is also no real infrastructure to support walking or biking to work, making it the city with the fewest number of commuting bicyclists and walkers. The city also has quite a few smokers. One sunny fact is that there are relatively few fast food restaurants (but we’re guessing that deep fat frying starts in the home).

3. New Orleans, Louisiana

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

The Big Easy might be taking it a bit too easy. Your city has extremely few gyms, too many smokers, and an obesity rate that is out of control. On the bright side, quite a few citizens walk or bike to work (keeping you from being last on the chart). The country is still behind you, and we don’t forget the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. Next year, we don’t want to see you on this list.

2. Detroit, Michigan

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Like NOLA, Detroit is a city struggling for rebirth and renewal. Unfortunately, the city nearly got the lowest heart health score. You have the sad distinction of being the city on our list with the fewest number of gyms. There are also too many smokers and too many with weight problems. Detroit is the Motor City, but you can still walk to work. You can’t return to your cities former greatness unless you also care for the heart health of your citizens.

1. Memphis, Tennessee

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons

Mark Cohn may have been walking in Memphis, but he seems to have been the only one. Few people walk or bike to work, and three in ten people in Memphis are clinically obese. In fact, the city has the highest obesity rates of the cities we ranked. Memphis, Tennessee had the lowest score in our ranking, “beating” second worst by an astonishing 26 points. C’mon Memphis, the rest of the country is pulling for you. Maybe next year you will improve your ranking. However, for 2015, Memphis, Tennessee has the worst heart health of the 50 most populous cities in America.

Worst Cities for Heart Health Chart

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As Seen On: American College of Cardiology, U.S.News, JAMA, Circulation Research, The Lancet