The 10 Most Active Counties in the U.S. and the 10 Least
April 21, 2017
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We're all guilty of skipping a workout or two, especially when life's other commitments are pulling us in every direction. But you might be surprised to hear that almost a quarter of all adults are totally inactive, according to new research from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. And it’s not just because people are lazy. The agency’s findings vary significantly by region, according to Time, coinciding with socioeconomic factors like income, education and public safety. In other words, the opportunity to exercise in America is a privilege. So it makes sense that most of the fittest counties are found in Colorado, one of America's richest states. Find out which counties have the lowest percentage of physically inactive adults and which counties had the highest.
LEAST ACTIVE — PRENTISS COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI
Prentiss County landed the 10th spot for having one of the least active populations in the U.S. Just under 39 percent of its adult population reports being physically inactive. Time reports that Keith Gennuso, the ranking's lead scientist, says that, "a variety of social and economic factors correlate to levels of inactivity, including unemployment, post-secondary education and poverty — factors that are also statistically tied to measures like rates of smoking and insufficient sleep." Prentiss County's median annual household income is $38,000, almost $20,000 less than the national average of $56,516.
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ATTALA COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI
Thirty-nine percent of Attala County’s adults report being physically inactive. Unfortunately, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps also reports that Attala County has a low median household income of $33,000 and a high rate of children in single-parent households (49 percent). Children in single-parent households are more likely to be overweight or obese, according to a study conducted by scientists at Rice University and the University of Houston in 2013.
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RANDOLPH COUNTY, ARKANSAS
Randolph County is located on the northern border of Arkansas between the Ozark Mountains and Arkansas Delta. It's the eighth least active county in America, with 39.4 percent of its adults reporting that they are physically inactive during their leisure time. This might be due, in part, to the fact that only 27 percent of its population lives reasonably close to a location for physical activity like a park or recreation center.
HARLAN COUNTY, KENTUCKY
Harlan County scored poorly in a number of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps’ categories. About 39.5 percent of its adults are inactive, 28 percent smoke cigarettes and 27 percent report being in poor or fair health. About 14,300 years of life are lost prematurely (before age 75) there every three years, and the unemployment rate is a whopping 11.7 percent. Tied to these statistics is the fact that poverty rates in Harlan County are high — 48 percent of children are living in poverty and the median household income is $27,400, the lowest of all the counties on this list.
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HASKELL COUNTY, OKLAHOMA
Haskell County, whose economy is driven largely by agriculture, is located in eastern Oklahoma. Its county seat, Stigler, has a small population of about 2,685, according to the 2010 census. Unfortunately, almost 40 percent of Haskell County’s population is inactive and about 39 percent of its adults are obese. Almost a quarter of the people living there are uninsured, and 41 percent of driving deaths there involve alcohol.
JACKSON COUNTY, ARKANSAS
Jackson County was named after war hero Andrew Jackson before he became the seventh president of the U.S. Its county seat, Newport, ambles along the White River, which, along with railroads, played a large role in the town’s development. Sadly, Jackson County scored the lowest of all the counties on this list when it comes to its access to exercise opportunities. Only 17 percent of its population lives reasonably close to a location for physical activity like a park or recreation center, which probably contributes to the county’s physical inactivity rate being almost 40 percent.
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LAWRENCE COUNTY, KENTUCKY
On top of having a high physical inactivity rate (40.4 percent), Lawrence County has the highest obesity rate of the counties on this list, coming in at 42 percent. Its unemployment rate, 9.4 percent (more than double the nation's average — 4.5 percent as of March), is the second highest on this list, adding to the evidence that economic privilege impacts a population's access to fitness opportunities.
MISSISSIPPI COUNTY, ARKANSAS
Mississippi County, named for the river that runs along its eastern border, is located in the northeast corner of Arkansas. Almost 41 percent of the adults there report being physically inactive during their leisure time. Mississippi County also fared badly on County Health Rankings & Roadmaps’ food environment index, which measures factors that contribute to a healthy food environment, with a score of 4.9 out of 10.
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COCKE COUNTY, TENNESSEE
About 41.3 percent of Cocke County's adults are physically inactive. People there also reported the highest percentage of mentally unhealthy days of all the counties on this list. Locals stated that in the 30 days prior to taking the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, their mental health was "not good" on an average of 5.1 days. This becomes significant when you account for the connection between mental and physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "obesity increases risk of depression and depression increases risk of obesity."
CLEBURNE COUNTY, ARKANSAS
Coming in first for the least active county in the entire nation, with a physical inactivity rate of 41.4 percent, is Cleburne County, Arkansas. Ironically, its county seat, Herber Springs, was founded as a health resort for its mineral springs in the mid-19th century, according to Arkansas.com. Located toward the center of the state, its residents have a median household income of about $43,900, significantly lower than the national average.
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MOST ACTIVE — LA PLATA COUNTY, COLORADO
Situated at the base of the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado, La Plata County earned 10th place for having one of the most active populations in the U.S. Just 11.6 percent of its adult population is physically inactive. To echo Time’s sentiment, it’s important to note that the median household income jumps from a low of $27,400 (in Harlan County) on the least active list, to $60,700 in La Plata County.
GUNNISON COUNTY, COLORADO
It’s no surprise to find Gunnison County on this list. According to the Colorado visitors’ website, it’s defined by its wealth of natural beauty: “Gunnison is rather like a home on the range surrounded by ski areas, a national recreation area, national park, lakes, rivers and mesas and a high mountain sage that looks like it’s right out of a John Wayne Western movie.” About 91 percent of its population lives near exercise opportunities like these, so it's no surprise that the county has a relatively low obesity rate of 15 percent.
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SUMMIT COUNTY, UTAH
People of Summit County are living the high life — literally. True to its name, Summit County contains 39 of Utah’s highest peaks, according to I Live History, a Utah government website. The site also reports that Summit County's economy is built on skiing, recreation, lumbering and livestock, which might explain why residents there have the lowest obesity rate (8 percent) of the 10 most active counties on this list.
TETON COUNTY, WYOMING
Teton County is home to the Grand Teton National Park, which houses the world-famous awe-inspiring Jackson Hole valley — a scene of breathtaking mountain peaks, diverse wildlife, pristine lakes and alpine terrain. Residents there have constant access to more than 200 miles of trails for everything from easy day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips. The area’s beauty is so stunning that American businessman John D. Rockefeller, Jr. bought over 35,000 acres there in 1926, and donated it to the government to be part of the national park.
SANTA FE COUNTY, NEW MEXICO
People in sunny Santa Fe County know how to get out and get moving. According to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, over 89 percent of its adults are physically inactive. Locals there are especially keen on biking — USA Today name Santa Fe one of America’s top mountain biking towns, and Singletracks.com dubbed it a top ten mountain biking destination in North America.
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DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLORADO
More than 90 percent of Douglas County's adults consider themselves physically active. According to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps data, Douglas County had the fewest poor physical and mental health days and the lowest percentage of adults who reported having poor to fair health of the top 10 most active counties. It had the highest score on the food environment index, scoring 8.8 out of 10. As Time reports, levels of physical activity coincide with income, so it makes sense that the fifth most active county in the U.S. would also be the fifth richest, with a median household income of $109,000.
EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO
Eagle County is all about outdoor adventure. The Town of Eagle has an extensive mountain biking trail network and is bisected by the Eagle River, which provides opportunities for rafting, kayaking, standup paddling, fishing and other water sports. Like Douglas County, Eagle’s median household income is nothing to scoff at, coming in at $75,200.
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PITKIN COUNTY, COLORADO
Aspen, the seat of Pitkin County, Colorado, is known across the world as a luxurious ski destination. In the winter, tourists flock to Aspen to test their skills on the peaks of the Elk Mountains. When summer rolls around, locals enjoy rafting, hiking, biking, rock-climbing fishing, golf, horseback riding and more. Over 91 percent of Pitkin County residents are physically active.
BOULDER COUNTY, COLORADO
Boulder, Colorado, boasts an adult population that is the second most active in the country. Outside magazine even named it the best place in the nation to indulge in outdoor sports. Locals can hike on the nearby Flagstaff Mountain or other park trails near downtown, or visit the Flatirons for biking, rock climbing and more. It's also worth noting that its median household income is $72,400. When you account for just the one third of American counties with the highest incomes, the physical inactivity rate drops from the national rate of 22.2 percent down to 20.1 percent.
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SUMMIT COUNTY, COLORADO
Summit County is home to the most active population in the U.S., with about 91.9 percent of its adults reporting that they are physically active. It also boasts low obesity, low smoking and high-income rates. According to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, 100 percent of its residents live reasonably close to a location for physical activity — a score that no other county achieved. A major takeaway from this study? Communities and local governments need to take action by promoting opportunities and creating safe and affordable locations for activity. Visit the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps page linked below for ideas about how you can help!
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