Summit, Wasatch residents among most physically active in the country, studies show

Published: Wednesday, July 10 2013 12:30 p.m. MDT

Bicyclists ride in a group in Park City Tuesday, July 9, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Americans are exercising more than ever, and residents of Utah's Summit and Wasatch counties are among those who move the most.

New releases by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation out of the University of Washington studied obesity and activity levels between 2001 and 2009 at the county level nationwide.

Men in Summit County were the second most physically active in the nation with 73.2 percent reporting "sufficient physical activity," which is defined as 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly.

Wasatch County men ranked eightth with 71.7 percent, compared to men in Teton, Wyo., who ranked first with 77.5 percent.

Summit County women were the sixth most active in the nation, with 69.6 percent reporting "sufficient physical activity."

Summit County was also listed as having among the lowest obesity rates. Researchers calculated body mass indexes by using self-reported weight and height data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Those with a BMI above 30 kilograms per meter squared were defined as "obese."

Summit County men ranked 10th lowest in the nation, at 22.4 percent, compared to 18.3 percent in San Francisco, which ranked No. 1. Summit County women were the sixth-least obese at 20 percent, compared to women in the city of Falls Church, Va., which ranked as the least obese county with 17.6 percent.

Life expectancy nationwide is not keeping pace with other nations, according to a study that measured counties throughout the nation between 1985 and 2010 published in the Population Health Metrics.

The county with the oldest average life expectancy for women was 85 years in 2010, up from the 81.1 reported from the oldest county in 1985. The lowest, Perry, Ky., at almost 73 years, is lower than the average death age for women in Botswana, the study said.

Men, on the other hand, are closing the life expectancy gap. The county with the highest life expectancy average was at 81.7 years in 2010, up from 75.5 years reported in 1985. The lowest reported in 2010 was almost 64 years, in McDowell, W.V., younger than Indonesia.

"That's slow progress in life expectancy compared to other countries around the world, and it's especially slow for women," said Haidong Wang, assistant professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Even though Utah is doing well, "there's always room to improve," according to Rebecca Fronberg, manager of the physical activity, nutrition and obesity program at the Utah Department of Health.

In other words, even though Americans are exercising more, that may not be enough to flip the scales.

For obesity levels to begin dropping in pace with the increase of physical activity, Americans need to adjust their caloric intake so that what they consume is less than what they burn, according to Ali Mokdad, professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Each individual needs to reach that balance personally, he said, adding that regardless of whether or not a person loses weight, it is important for them to exercise to stave off cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

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