What is the state of Pittsburgh’s health?  Not the city itself, but our residents.  How healthy are Pittsburghers?Illustration for Pittsburgh gets a checkup

According to Bert Sperling’s Best Places website, Pittsburgh ranks 22 out of the U.S.’s top 50 most populous cities in health.  Each city was evaluated on several criteria including Mental Health, Lifestyle, Activity, Health Status, and Nutrition.

  • Mental Health evaluated aspects such as stress level, sleep issues, and cost of living.
  • Lifestyle examined points including the number of dog parks, how many times people dined out, the availability of cultural activities and amusement parks.
  • For Physical Activity the study counted the number of health clubs and gym memberships, how often and vigorously people exercised.
  • Health Status evaluated elements such as incidence of diabetes, hypertension, asthma and arthritis, as well as the number of smokers, dental health and physicians per capita.
  • The criteria of Nutrition took into consideration alcohol consumption, body mass index, vitamin consumption, and the number of fast food establishments.

Favorable Scores

Pittsburgh scored most favorably in the area of Mental Health pittsburgh-health-smwith a score of 89 out of 100 points.  The city scored a favorable 73 in the area of Health Status and a respectable 69 in Physical Activity.  The city doesn’t fare so well in the area of Nutrition with a rank of 26, and according to the study, we are second to last in the area of Lifestyle.  Pittsburgh fared slightly better in Forbes Magazine’s 2009 ranking of America’s Fittest Cities, coming in at 16.  Forbes touted our access to numerous farmers’ markets and higher number of primary care physicians as a plus.  Unfortunately, we had a higher incidence of disability and coronary artery disease than other cities.  In 2010 Forbes only ranked the top 10 cities, and Pittsburgh didn’t crack that list.

Unhealthy Pittsburgh

Decades earlier Pittsburgh was vilified for its poor air quality,Children's Hospital but the city has significantly cleaned up its act.  Even so, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report, Pittsburgh still needs to do some work.  Pittsburgh is not on the list for ozone pollution, but it still ranks fairly high, coming in at number five, in year-round particle pollutions and third in short-term particle pollution.  Particle pollution is miniscule solid and liquid particles in the air we breathe.  This type of pollution elevates the rate of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer and even cardiovascular disease.  According to Children’s Hospital, children in Western Pennsylvania are 400 times more likely to require emergency asthma treatment than children across the nation.  Studies have been funded to research why this is so and what can be done to address this problem.

PittsburghTODAY compares our area with other regions of the country across several benchmarks, one of which is health.  PittsburghTODAY reported on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s findings that in 2008, Pittsburgh’s rate of adult obesity was second highest as compared to the other 15 benchmark regions that they study.  Tied to our high rate of obesity is our elevated rate of diabetes and the fact that we are among the leaders in dying from heart attacks.

Another troubling health problem is our rate of premature birth.  In 2003-2004 the Pittsburgh area was tied with Denver for the highest rate of premature births for white women.  For black mothers, Pittsburgh ranked second only behind Detroit.  Magee-Womens Research Institute has undertaken studies to address this problem.

In 2009 Men’s Fitness magazine ranked the nation’s fittest cities and according to them, Pittsburgh was ranked 25.  We excelled in areas such as fitness centers and access to healthcare, but we received failing grades in sports participation, the amount of TV viewing, consumption of junk food, poor air quality, lack of motivation, and obesity initiatives.

On the Healthy Side

Healthy Side in Pittsburgh

On the bright side, Pittsburghers reside in a premiere medical community.  The area has some of the most respected hospitals and medical research facilities in the nation.  We are also blessed to have many excellent medical practitioners to choose from.

The good news in all of these gloomy statistics is that many of our health ills can be improved.  It has almost become a cliche, but if the city as a whole would lose weight and exercise, we’d see improvements in our health.

So you might want cut back on the cheese fries, pass on the pierogies, and nix the nachos.  Instead of sitting around watching television, it would be healthier to take advantage of our natural resources.  Take up kayaking, hike the hills or pedal around Pittsburgh.  Whatever you choose to do, you will not only be helping yourself and your family, but the entire city as well.