by Grace Muvodzi

Mother City number 1

Cape Town ranked number one in Discovery’s Vitality Fittest City Index

Cape Town ranks number one
Discovery’s Vitality Fittest City Index

Globally, according to the World Health Organisation, non-communicable diseases caused 36 million deaths in 2008, with obesity and physical inactivity identified as major contributors. If no action is taken, the number of lives cut short will continue to increase, and it is estimated that by 2030, non-communicable diseases could claim the lives of up to 55 million people.

Research has shown that if public and private entities worked together to bring back movement into our cities, in terms of enabling exercise-friendly facilities to facilitate exercise through urban planning policies and promote community participation, as many as 1.3 million lives could be saved each year.

To increase awareness around this, and highlight the importance of how living a healthier, more active lifestyle can impact positively on our health and well-being, Discovery Vitality collaborated with several experts in the fields of public health, physical activity, urban planning and environmental studies to discuss the feasibility of creating an unique algorithm that would allow a clear view of how fit South Africa’s cities really are.

Discovery Vitality’s aim in developing the Vitality Fittest City Index is to determine how each of South Africa’s six major metropolitan areas rank in physical activity-related health and infrastructure that promotes physical activity.

“The rapid rise in diseases of lifestyle is a major health concern and we hope that the Vitality Fittest City Index will encourage policy makers and local governments to create supportive environments which will improve the health and physical activity profile of their city, and we’d like the index to act as motivation to encourage people to find opportunities to get active,” says Dr Craig Nossel, head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery.

Data for the Vitality Fittest City Index was collected from reliable, publically available resources and research, and divided into four categories: personal health indicators, self-reported physical activity, transport and sports facilities.

“Finding reliable data and extrapolating it to the metropole level, particularly the facilities data, was very challenging,” says Professor Estelle Lambert, a professor at the University of Cape Town/Medical Research Council Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, and one of the Fittest City Index’s collaborators. “Factors that influence lifestyle choices, particularly in the ‘ecology’ or the environment (social, physical and policy) are particularly relevant in a country like South Africa where there are extremes between levels of poverty and wealth.

“This algorithm,” says Lambert, “is unique to the South African setting and is among the first to integrate these data from various credible sources to calculate the Vitality Fittest City Index.”

The Mother City’s urban infrastructure gives Capetonians the edge when it comes to facilities and an environment that encourages and facilitates exercise. Cape Town’s urban infrastructure includes dedicated cycle lanes and integrated bus and cycle routes. Cape Town’s residents have the lowest car dependency in the country and are the biggest users of public transport. In addition, the city also has the greatest number of sports clubs, gyms, fitness facilities and parks per 100 000 people.

The six major metropolitan areas ranked in the Vitality Fittest City Index 2013 are as follows:

1.    The City of Cape Town

2.    Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth)

3.    Tshwane (Pretoria)

4.    eThekwini (Durban)

5.    Johannesburg

6.    Ekurhuleni (East Rand)

 

What Cape Town is getting right

Cape Town’s public transport network gives it an edge over the other metropoles. Its MyCiTi Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system plans to deliver accessible transport to the majority of the city’s residents to within 500 metres of their homes within the next 15 to 25 years, including those in densely populated outlying areas such as Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.  

The first phase of this BRT system opened in May 2011, with an express service along the heavily congested commuter belt from Table View and Milnerton to central Cape Town, as well as several feeder services. Crucially, the buses allow bicycles to be carried on them so users can cycle to bus stations and take their bikes with them.

The city has built a cycle path between Milnerton and Paarden Eiland, which offer cyclists a safer alternative to the regional road. The path is clearly signposted and includes drop-kerbs for easy access.

In addition, the city has an above average number of sports and recreational facilities per 100 000 people.

 

Where there is room for improvement in Cape Town

Capetonians may be rich in facilities, but they’re poor in health. According to the Vitality Fittest City Index, Cape Town scored poorly when it came to personal health indicators such as body mass index, waist circumference, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Getting more people to move more often could impact positively on these health statistics: local authorities need to ensure pavements are in good condition, that there is support for community events such as mass participation walks, cycle races and seniors’ walking programmes, and by setting an example through their own staff involvement in fitness initiatives.

Cape Town’s coastline also offers numerous opportunities for water sports and community programmes that encourage water sport enthusiasts to help teach novices. Beachfront promenades are the ideal venue for guided Walking for Health events.

The purpose of the Vitality Fittest City Index is to increase awareness around the health benefits of physical activity, and provide insight in the current state of our nation’s health and to provide information about what our cities can do to get fit and healthy. This initiative will also help to generate healthy competition between our cities to motivate behaviour; to provide information around the built environment and resources that encourage activity and to set policies that will encourage individuals and communities to engage in physical activity as part of a healthier, active lifestyle.

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