Columbia is the healthiest city in Missouri

A study published in USA Today ranked healthiest cities in the U.S. using four criteria.
An MU student runs on the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail. Columbia is Missouri’s healthiest city, according to data compiled by financial news website 24/7 Wall St. on Aug. 27. Maneater File Photo

Columbia is Missouri’s healthiest city according to rankings compiled by financial news website 24/7 Wall St. on Aug. 27.

Missouri as a whole ranks at or below the national average for health, according to the study. Columbia, however, scores above national averages in data collected by Boone County as well as in opinions on campus.

Wellness Resource Center coordinator Tiffany Bowman said she thinks Columbia stands out in health because of its emphasis on exercise. The trails, bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly downtown and campus promote movement, she said. A survey of citizens conducted by the city in 2015 showed that 92 percent of residents visit city parks.

Bowman said she thinks the Student Recreation Complex also helps keeps students and community members active. In 2005, Sports Illustrated named MU’s Student Recreation Complex the best in the country.

MU awards faculty and staff for healthy habits with cash prizes through the Wellness Incentive. They can earn up to $450 for healthy activities like health assessments, tracking their steps and getting a flu shot.

In the study, published on Aug. 31 by USA Today, Columbia ranked well in the four criteria used: obesity rate (25.3 percent), unemployment rate (4.1 percent), percentage of residents who are food insecure (11.6 percent) and percentage of residents without health insurance (8.6 percent).

Boone County spokeswoman Andrea Waner said the data in the study was similar but not identical to previous state and city research. Every five years, Boone County compiles a Community Health Status Assessment.

The most recent in 2013 focused on five areas citizens told officials were important, Waner said. Those areas were safe and healthy neighborhoods, healthy lifestyles, access to health care, disparities and behavioral health.

24/7 Wall St. does not explain how the authors chose those four criteria, and the authors could not be reached for comment. Bowman said she thinks the addition of mental health statistics would have contributed to a more comprehensive assessment of overall health.

The study’s authors identified five commonalities in most of the healthiest cities around the nation. Most had high rates in education, insurance and exercise, and a low smoking population and are relatively urban.

Student Health Center spokeswoman Pam Roe said the health center is also encouraging activity on campus. Its social media campaign, #MizzouFit, promotes healthy living on campus; students who post pictures doing something active on social media can win prizes from the Mizzou Store.

“When you’re out and being active, it also helps with mental health, behavioral health and stress reduction,” she said.

Roe said the health center is trying to make fitness part of the culture on campus. The health center also offers stress management, counseling and smoking cessation services among other services, Roe said.

According to the 2013 Boone County Community Health Assessment, there is a strong connection between health and level of education. Boone County has higher rates of education with 47.7 percent of residents over 25 holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. The state’s value for the same rate is 26.1 percent and the national rate of 28.5 percent.

College graduates are about four times more likely to have health insurance than those who did not finish high school, according to the health assessment. In 2013, the assessment found that 14.5 percent of Boone County residents did not have health insurance.

Only seven of the healthiest cities had smoking rates above the national average of about 20 percent. In Boone County, 18 percent of adults over the age of 18 smoke and six percent use another kind of tobacco, according to the 2013 health assessment. In the same year, a Gallup poll found that 24.7 percent of the state’s population smokes.

The study’s authors, Michael Sauter, Thomas Frohlich and Sam Stebbins, used data from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and the joint program from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, according to 24/7 Wall St.

The authors created an index to review all U.S. metropolitan areas. The most recent data available was used. The sources that collected the raw data compiled in the index used to rank the cities did not include students in their surveys.

Roe said it’s important to form healthy habits in college.

“What you learn in college, you take with you in your life,” she said.

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