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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Is D.C. really the fittest city?

The Scene examines the truth behind American Fitness Index naming D.C. as the country's’ fittest city.

In the Netflix show “House of Cards,” Frank and Claire Underwood seem to love their runs in the National Mall. But I’d rather lie in my comfortable bed and watch them exercise than lace up my own shoes. The American Fitness Index recently released a study that named Washington, D.C. the fittest city in America—but I’m beyond skeptical of this conclusion.

The AFI compiled a list on the most fit and least fit cities in the U.S earlier this year. The organization concludes D.C. surpassed other “fit cities” on the list, such as San Francisco and Portland, Oregon because many people in the District choose to walk to work. The number of parks in D.C. also contributed to the city’s high ranking, according a Georgia State University AFI report.

When I heard about the District’s first place ranking, I initially questioned the standing. I don’t workout frequently, and many of my friends don’t either, so I set out to test D.C.’s fitness ranking in lieu of the AFI report. I wanted to assess the number of D.C. residents who embraced fitness and how recreational activities in the city helped boost the area’s status as the “fittest” city. I began to rationalize the ranking by analyzing my own life: maybe I’m surrounding myself with the small percentage of D.C. residents who don’t exercise, or maybe I’m living in my own fantasy world where the gym acts as a scapegoat to avoid human interaction.

I took my skepticism to AU’s Jacobs Fitness Center to find data to test the study’s findings. As I looked around the gym, I felt blown away by the amount of people exercising. I then met desk attendant Blake Norton, a junior in the School of International Service and a self-proclaimed physically active resident of D.C.

When I asked Norton if he agreed with the study’s findings, he also appeared skeptical.

“That’s a hard question,” Blake said. “It’s starting to be. People are biking to work now.”

In his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Norton said people have a difficult time commuting via bikes, which makes driving a necessity. He said D.C. has bike lanes and sidewalks for people to bike to work and school, allowing them to stay active.

Norton said he runs four to six miles a day and lifts in between his classes and work but he prefers to run at the gym rather than outside. Norton’s preference inspired me to evaluate gym accessibility and prevalence in the District, and I discovered D.C. boasts 849 gyms, according to Yelp. But does this number of gyms reflect all of D.C. or only a small portion?

After another search on Yelp, I found that Anacostia has only one small gym named “Metropolitan Fitness & Safety Academy Health Club,” a facility located at 2201 Shannon Pl SE that does not have a website or Yelp reviews. Owners and managers of the gym could not be reached for comment.

Yelp showed 11 gyms in the Georgetown neighborhood, a number that stands in stark contrast to the lone complex in Anacostia. Georgetown claims an average annual household income of $132,814, according to City Data, and the average annual household income in Anacostia is $30,000. City Data offers a detailed profile of each neighborhood in D.C. including average income, race, education and more. The $102,814 discrepancy between Georgetown and Anacostia correlates with the number of available gym facilities between the two neighborhoods.

In 2004,, a D.C. news station, named the area near Atlantic Avenue and 4th Street in Southeast D.C. the 22nd most dangerous neighborhood in the country. The news station reported that residents did not feel safe in their town, creating additional challenges for those who wished to exercise outside in the public. With a constant fear for their lives, children in this area live without the luxury of running through parks with their friends for daily exercise.

Fitness also includes healthy eating, and to afford healthy eating, it’s important to live by grocery stores that offer fresh produce, rather than be surrounded by fast food restaurants. An article published by the The Food Trust covering the ‘grocery gap’ further proves my theory.

“In Washington, D.C., the city’s lowest-income wards (Wards 7 and 8) have one supermarket for every 70,000 people while two of the three highest-income wards (ards 2 and 3) have one for every 11,881 people,” according to The Food Trust article.

I also spoke with Lily Barsanti, a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, who has spent two semesters on AU’s dance team, to understand an AU athlete’s perspective on the fitness ranking. Barsanti said she agreed with Norton that D.C. fosters an active culture because of public transportation problems and healthy food options.

“The metro is so hard to take, so people end up walking everywhere,” Barsanti said. “Where we live in D.C., there doesn’t seem to have a lot of fast food readily available. I definitely believe health food is becoming very trendy in D.C.”

Barsanti’s fast food comment prompted me to research the number of McDonald's restaurants in Anacostia and Georgetown. Anacostia includes three McDonald’s, but visitors won’t find the Golden Arches anywhere in Georgetown. The McDonald’s comparison and the stats included in The Food Trust article demonstrate that healthy food options differ drastically in different areas of D.C., suggesting that D.C.’s ranking as the “fittest city” does not consider all areas of the District. My research proves that Anacostia lacks nutritious food, and we should not label all of D.C. as a part of the “fittest city.” By accepting the AFI ranking without critical questioning we allow the District to ignore the work it must do to provide a healthier environment for underprivileged areas.

While American Fitness Index took the average measurements of fitness in D.C. to make its rankings, it failed to look at the major disparities between the neighborhoods of D.C. The next step in making D.C. a fitter overall city is taking action in providing nutritious food to every area, making gyms more readily available and working on the safety of parks.

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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