its plentiful parks, beaches and recreational trails along the Lake
Michigan shoreline, Milwaukee is not lacking in community outlets for
physical activity. But, Milwaukeeans also love their beer, brats,
cheese and cream puffs, as evidenced by a rise in chronic health
conditions like diabetes and obesity.
Milwaukee placed 26th on the American Fitness Index, an annual list
compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine, which ranks the
50 most populous metropolitan areas in terms of health and community
fitness. The report evaluates cities’ infrastructure, community
assets and policies that encourage healthy, fit lifestyles.
imperative for cities to fund amenities and form policies that get
residents active and encourage healthy lifestyles," says Walter
Thompson, chair of the AFI Advisory Board.
26th place ranking on the 2013 fitness index is an improvement over
2012 when the city finished 30th out of the top 50 metropolitan areas.
Among Milwaukee’s strengths over other major metropolitan areas —
a lower percentage of heart disease, more farmers markets per capita
and a higher percentage of people biking or walking to work.
But when it
comes to healthy habits, Milwaukee falls short of its peers. According
to study results, Milwaukee residents have a higher rate of obesity
and asthma. The city also has a higher percentage of smokers and fewer
residents who eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
So how can
Milwaukee crack the top 10 on the American Fitness Index in 2014?
to community health leaders and advocates to put this information to
good use," says Thompson.
cities that want to help their residents get healthier to focus on
simple changes that could help make big health improvements. One
effective strategy is to support businesses that make communities
healthier like farmers markets, which offer fresh produce from local
suggests local businesses encourage their employees to adopt healthier
lifestyles by partnering with health and wellness initiatives and
programs in place
mediocre score on the American Fitness Index, there are signs that
Milwaukee is making strides to improve the health and well-being of
its residents. The city is at the forefront of urban agriculture with
nationally recognized programs like the HOME GR/OWN initiative, which
is turning vacant lots in Milwaukee’s low-income neighborhoods into
community gardens and urban farms.
way to stimulate the local economy and increase access to healthy
food," explains Tim McCollow, project manager of the initiative.
initiative, Well City Milwaukee, is aiming to make Milwaukee one of
the country’s healthiest cities through workplace wellness. The
group is currently seeking the "Well City Gold" designation,
meaning that 50 percent of the city’s workforce is taking part in a
wellness program. Milwaukee achieved Silver status in 2010, with 30
percent of the Milwaukee workforce participating in wellness programs.
supporters behind the Well City Milwaukee initiative include the MMAC,
the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the City of Milwaukee, YMCA of
Metropolitan Milwaukee and the Wellness Council of Wisconsin. Nearly
70 employers have committed to becoming accredited well workplaces as
Milwaukee pursues "Well City Gold" status.
company is accredited by the end of 2014, Milwaukee will be the only
city in the nation to achieve Gold status," says Gail Bennett,
director of Well City Milwaukee.
Bennett says the
goal of Well City Milwaukee is to make workplace wellness programs the
is that creating a healthy culture at work will have a ripple effect
on the community," she says.
that Milwaukee is making strides toward becoming a healthier
community? A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group,
released in late 2013, shows that residents in Wisconsin’s urbanized
areas — including Milwaukee — are driving less and using alternate
modes of transportation like public transit and bicycles more.
a shift away from driving in our cities here in Wisconsin and across
the country," says Bruce Speight, director of the WISPIRG
Foundation. "The driving boom is over. We need to invest in
improving public transit and biking, which are growing around the
Transportation in Transition — the first ever national study to
compare transportation trends in large U.S. cities — Milwaukee saw
the second largest drop in per-capita Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) in
the nation: down 21 percent. At the same time, the number of people
reporting they bike to work increased 280 percent. The report data
came from the Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Statistics
and the annual American Community Survey.
is taking steps to improve its bicycling infrastructure," says
Keith Holt of Milwaukee Bicycle Works.
improvements have helped boost biking activity year-round in
Milwaukee, but there’s still a long way to go, says Dave Schlabowske,
communications director for the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. While
some trails like Oak Life are being better maintained during the
winter, others like Hank Aaron, which functions as a commuter route,
aren’t plowed at all.
to provide convenient, well-maintained trails if you want people to
ride bicycles," says Shlabowske. He pointed to Minneapolis as an
example. "They’ve built more trails, painted more bike lanes,
have more dedicated facilities for bicycling, and they maintain them
in the winter."
Milwaukee can’t yet claim the title of healthiest city in America,
it’s evident the city is doing more to encourage residents to lead
climbing up there," says Bennett.