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Buffalo Niagara fares woefully in national fitness survey

Hit the gym today. Go for a run. Talk a walk.

Do something! If not for yourself, for your community, which ranked sixth from the bottom out of nearly 200 regions across the U.S. in an exercise survey released this week.

“There’s lots of challenging work to do,” said Philip L. Haberstro, executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo. “Over time, working together, we will prevail.”

Western New York has lots of ground to cover, according to a report titled “State of American Well-Being: 2016 community rankings for exercise,” released by Gallup-Sharecare.

The pollster surveyed more than 350,000 people during 2015 and 2016, and compiled its rankings based on the percentage of those in each community who said they exercised 30 or more minutes, three or more days during the last week.

A paltry 46.5 percent of people in the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls region met that standard, placing 184 nationally out of 189 communities surveyed – and dead last out of seven regions surveyed in New York State.

The region bested only Akron and Toledo, Ohio, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Montgomery, Ala. and the last of the lot, Hickory-Lenoir-Morgantown, N.C., at 41.8 percent.

Boulder, Colo. topped the list at 69.6 percent, followed by Fort Collins, Colo., San Luis Obispo–Paso Robles–Arroyo Grande, Calif., Greely, Colo. and Santa Rosa, Calif.

“Boulder is a community with a track record of high well-being, high fresh produce consumption and extremely low rates of obesity,” the report authors wrote.

Sixth ranked from the top? Honolulu, Hawaii, with 61.4 percent of its residents exercising at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.


Binghamton finished highest in New York, at No. 74 (54.2 percent), followed by Utica-Rome (No. 89; 53.5 percent); Syracuse (94; 53.3); Albany–Schenectady–Troy, (141; 50.8); New York–Newark–Jersey City, (167; 49.1); and Rochester, which fell just outside the bottom 10 at No. 178; 47.8 percent.

Erie, Pa., where slightly more than half of residents get the minimum amount of exercise, was 139th on the list.

Condition are improving in Western New York, although the road is daunting.

Cattaraugus, Niagara and Chautauqua counties ranked in the bottom five of New York state’s 62 counties in the most recent annual ranking of health outcomes by the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Erie and Orleans counties fell in the bottom 15 counties when considering measures that included premature death, tobacco use and air quality.

Erie, Niagara among 15 unhealthiest counties in the state

The Gallup-Sharecare survey was culled from more than 350,000 telephone interviews conducted across the nation as part of a larger effort to compile an American well-being index.


There is a direct link between the physical activity rankings and overall regional health, the survey authors point out.

“High exercise communities also benefit from higher rates of healthy eating, more fresh produce consumption and lower rates of smoking,” according to the report. “Importantly, these communities have significantly lower disease burden, with residents who have much lower rates of obesity, and report approximately 30 percent less diagnoses of diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart attack, as compared with the lowest 10 communities.”

Can Buffalo Niagara boost its walkability?

People in higher fitness ranked regions report feeling more hopeful for the future, safer and more secure. They have more pride in their communities, higher rates of “impactful volunteerism,” and tend to smile more often, the authors write.


Reddy Bikes are among efforts to get those in Buffalo moving more. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Public health leaders in Western New York aren’t taking the report lying down. Two of them said the region has been aware of the disparities for several years and that many groups are working to make improvements.

“Look around the City of Buffalo’s community and you’ll notice the constantly improving bikability and walkability initiatives complemented by new trails in the City and in Tonawanda,” Haberstro said. “Much is due to the City’s Complete Streets policy, and a progressive Buffalo Public School District wellness policy. The B-Well and Erie County falls prevention efforts place a premium on regular physical activity with our older adults.”

Haberstrol also talked about the positives in economic conditions in the region, including lower health insurance costs and high insurance enrollment compared to other parts of the country.

Dr. Michael W. Cropp, president and CEO of Independent Health, said the insurer is among health care leaders looking to encourage more public health-minded partnerships between physicians, employers, community organizations and citizens.

Cropp pointed to incentive programs that encourage more buying of fruits and vegetables, make it easier to walk and bike in neighborhoods. He also referenced the Independent Health and Buffalo Bills Health & Wellness Challenge, which bestows prizes on some participants who agree to eat more produce, drink more water and exercise more often. Another challenge (visit will start next month.

“Just like the revitalization and energy we’ve seen across the Buffalo-Niagara region, I am optimistic that our community’s exercise rate will improve as well,” Cropp said. “While we recognize any transformation of this scale takes time, along with a broad sense of ownership and engagement, we are excited to help lead, welcome other organizations to join in, and encourage everyone to ask, ‘What can I do to help rocket up the rankings?’”


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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