Special Report

The Couch Potato Capital of Every State

Obesity is a public health problem in the U.S. and for years one of the most frequently mentioned recommendations to address the country’s growing weight problem has been for people to exercise more. And most of them seem to have listened.

In 2018, 53.3% of adult Americans met the U.S. government’s weekly exercise recommendation, the highest on record and up from 41.4% in 2006, according to the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Health Interview Survey.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to intense exercise — about 20 minutes a day. 

About 22.7% of Americans don’t engage in regular physical activity during their leisure time. Of course, exercise habits vary widely from state to state, and even more so from city to city. 

To identify the cities where residents are getting the least amount of exercise, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the percentage of adults who are not physically active in all 382 metro areas in the United States. The measure came from the 2021 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

For the most part, even the laziest cities are representative of their state. The laziest cities in states with the highest rates of physical inactivity tend to rank among the least active cities nationwide. And while most cities on this list have a higher inactivity rate than their respective state,  four cities have a lower share of adults who do not exercise in their leisure time than their respective state. 

Exercise habits are related to a variety of factors. One of them appears to be income. Metro areas where residents have lower incomes frequently have lower levels of physical activity and worse health outcomes overall, including higher rates of adult obesity and diabetes. 

Regular physical activity has been shown to be an important  factor in maintaining a healthy weight as it helps the body lose fat and build muscle tissue. Of the 50 metro areas on the list, only seven have an adult obesity rate that is lower than the adult obesity rate of their state. Ten cities have a lower diabetes rate than their respective states. 

All but eight cities on this list have a higher share of the adult population who report being in poor or fair health compared to their home state. 

In addition to living longer, regular physical activity is also linked to better quality of life. Some research shows that even just 15 minutes a day provide benefits, including lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some common types of cancer. These are the states where life expectancy was declining even before the pandemic.

Click here to see the couch potato capital of every state

To identify the cities where residents are getting the least amount of exercise, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data about the share of adults who are not physically active in all 382 metro areas in the United States. The measure came from the 2021 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Obesity rates — the share of adult residents who report a body mass index of 30 or greater — as well as the share of adults who have access to exercise facilities and the share of the population reporting to be in fair or poor health also came from the 2021 CHR.

Population figures, median household income, and poverty rate came from the American Community Survey 2019 5-Year Estimates.