Turning The Table On Obesity

Mike Shull

Mike Shull

Despite the constant reminder of Kentucky’s growing issue with obesity, the Commonwealth may not be in as bad of shape as you expect.

According to a recent survey conducted by MapMyFITNESS, a company that operates a suite of social wellness-oriented websites and associated mobile and tablet applications, the city of Louisville has been named the “Fittest of the Fit” in the nation; Kentucky ranked third overall compared to other U.S. states.

The “Fittest of the Fit” ranking was determined over a 13-month period ending in April of 2012, and calculated the fitness activities of 1.7 million active MapMyFITNESS community members in more than 2,500 cities nationwide. The finding is based on the self-reported runs, bike rides, walks, gym sessions and other calorie-burning activities recorded by those who use either the website or one of its smartphone apps, such as MapMyRUN or MapMyRIDE.

“There is a bias of the data – obviously users of the system,” said Robin Thurston, co-founder and chief product officer of MapMyFITNESS.com. “It’s actual activity, so we look at all of the hundreds of different activities. BMI and all of that data is used to determine essentially the qualified audience.”

The “Fittest of the Fit” survey took into account Louisville’s population size, total number of MapMyFITNESS users, the combined overweight BMI and obese BMI percentages of the city, and a proprietary MapMyFITNESS index based on the location’s activity level, percentage population engagement and other factors. The higher the activity index in relation to another location, the more fit (and active) that location was considered.

“Clearly, we have many stiff challenges including the rates of obesity, heart disease and smoking,” said Mayor Greg Fischer, in regard to the recent survey. “However, as this ranking indicates, a growing number of our citizens want to be active, whether it’s running in a 10K or mini-marathon, walking or canoeing and kayaking which are becoming very popular. We’re certainly working to encourage exercise and activity with events like the Hike, Bike & Paddle, the new Paddle for Hunger and improvements to our parks, roads and trails – including the 100-mile Louisville Loop – that make it easier for people to get out and be fit.”

One Louisville resident active in the area’s fitness scene is enthusiastic about the new positive spin on Louisville’s health. Michael Shull, an attorney with Frost, Brown, Todd and frequent user of MapMyRUN, used the app to train for the Kentucky Derby Festival marathon and a few half-marathons. Coming across Louisville’s ranking as the “Fittest of the Fit” on the MapMyFITNESS website, he was sceptical at first, but after some fact-checking realized the huge implication for the city.

“Every time you ever see any study for obesity, they always slam us,” said Shull. “I went down through the rankings and we were legitimately number one. If you’re going to publicize every negative study, at least (publicize one positive one). They’re not ignoring the fact that most people could lose a few pounds, they’re just saying, we’re also very active and the activity sort of, no pun intended, outweighs obesity and the overweight (statistics).”

Shull, like many of the MapMyFITNESS users, utlilizes the MapMyRUN smartphone app to track exercise. With a built-in global positioning device (GPS) on the phone, the app is able to trace a user’s route and log information such as estimated calories burned and distance traveled. For only $2.99, it  provides the same type of information you’d obtain from a $200 running or cycling watch.

While Kentucky’s prevalence of obesity is still an issue at hand, the latest survey on the nation’s fitness implies that much of the Commonwealth’s population is making an effort to combat the disease. It’s also an excellent reminder of Louisville’s growing commitment to hosting a variety of health-related activities around town and the number of local athletes who’ve helped Louisville land the title of “Fittest of the Fit.”

Mike Shull and Nathan McNulty.

Mike Shull and Nathan McNulty.

“You have a Louisvillian (Wesley Korir) who just won the Boston Marathon,” Shull said. “That’s the world’s most prestigious long distance race. Louisville just hosted the World Cyclo-Cross Championship, the USA Cycling time trials, and each year we host one of only nine Ironman Triathlons in the USA. The support from the community for running and cycling is there. We just need to keep scheduling bigger events and increasing trail volume to maintain the interest and momentum.”

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune