Buffalo in middle for health, fitness

May 30, 2013 Updated May 30, 2013 at 10:42 AM EDT

By Tracey Drury, Business First

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Buffalo in middle for health, fitness

May 30, 2013 Updated May 30, 2013 at 10:42 AM EDT

Take that Miami: The Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan area scores higher as a region that encourages healthy and fit lifestyles.

The local metro was ranked No. 23 on the 2013 American Fitness Index, produced annually by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Though Buffalo-Niagara scored well behind top-ranked metros like Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore., Buffalo-Niagara was well ahead of fair-weather regions like Miami, Charlotte and Memphis.

The AFI index, supported by the WellPoint Foundation, scores the nation’s top 50 metros based on infrastructure, community assets and policies that encourage healthy and fit lifestyles.

“As urban areas attract more and more residents, it’s imperative for cities to create a built environment, fund amenities and form policies that get residents active and encourage healthy lifestyles,” he said.

Additional data and specifics on each metro are available online at americanfitnessindex.org.

The data was included in its 2013 report, which reflects what it calls a composite of preventive health behaviors, levels of chronic disease conditions, health care access and community resources and policies that support physical activity.

With a score of 78.2 out of 100, the Twin Cities region took first place for the third consecutive year. Buffalo-Niagara scored 53.2 on the index, and rose two spots from No. 25 in the 2012 ranking.

Among the Buffalo-Niagara region’s areas of excellence: the number of farmer’s markets per capita, the percentage of people who bicycle or walk to work and the number of ball diamonds, parks and playgrounds and swimming pools.

Areas of improvement for the region include a higher percentages of smokers, obesity, asthma and diabetes. The region also had points off for having fewer acres of parkland, dog parks and recreation centers.

Researchers used are data from the U.S. Census, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the Trust for the Public Land City Park Facts and other existing research data to give a scientific snapshot of the health and fitness status at a metropolitan level. The goal is to help health advocates and community leaders improve the quality of life in their hometowns, said Walter Thompson, chairman of the AFI advisory board.