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Study: Is Saratoga County Really As Healthy As You Think It Is?

It might be one of the healthiest counties in the state—but obesity is still a problem here. And we have the data to prove it.

Obesity
(Bahrain Personal Fitness/Flickr)

In my late 20s and mid 30s, I was a regular at the Astoria Sports Complex and Greenpoint YMCA (two New York City gyms), but I had little direction. I would go in and lift a few weights here and do a few squats there—maybe even run a mile or two, then leave. As long as I was sweating at the end of my “workout,” I figured, what the hell? I’m doing something. I admit it: At the time, I thought the concept of an organized gym class or personal trainer was for bored, former college athletes looking to relive the glory days. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, I’m staring down 40, and I’ve had a few recent health hiccups that have scared me straight and compelled me to literally “get with the program.” So I’ve started going to a gym in Troy, Anatomie, five days a week, which means daily rise-and-shines of 5:15am and high-intensity strength and conditioning classes aplenty, with one yoga class thrown in for good measure. All of the trainers that run the classes push me to my physical limits and reduce me to a blubbering bowl of sweat. But once my heart rate comes down and I stop wheezing, I feel refreshed, knowing that I actually did my body good.

One would suspect that, with my new, inspired exercise regimen, I’d be eating healthier, too. I wish that were the case. I was born with an out-of-control sweet tooth and have enablers in my family (you know who you are!), who regularly stock my kitchen with all manner of delicious, sugary foodstuffs. I’m also addicted to cheese—hard, soft, stinky, crumbly, etc. You name it, I’ve probably eaten it. And while I’m not morbidly obese by any stretch of the imagination (or belt-line), I have been told by my general practitioner numerous times that I should be eating better, and could probably lose 10-20 pounds.

And look, she has a point. Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the average 5-foot-9-inch person (basically, me), who is 30 years or older (definitely me), is obese if he or she weighs more than 203 pounds (no comment). Besides my relatively unhealthy eating, I’d also like to suggest that where I’ve ended up in life, geographically, has affected my overall health. And I have some data to prove it. I live in Rensselaer County (i.e. Troy), and as of last year, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study, my county ranks No.37 overall in terms of healthiness in New York State. That’s compared to next-door neighbor Albany County, which rings in at a more respectable No.26. Drilling down a little bit, in terms of key numbers, Rensselaer ranks 31st out of 62 counties in terms of “health behaviors,” which include bullet-points such as general adult obesity, likelihood that an adult smokes and likelihood that that same adult drinks to excess regularly. (There are quite a few other bullets.) In fact, in Rensselaer County, we’re 4 percent more obese than in the rest of the state. Ugh.

However, if I were to jump in my car and drive up north to my job at saratoga living, it’s a whole different ballgame. Per the same report, Saratoga County ranks No.2 (!) in terms of healthiest counties in the state (second only to Rockland County), and its residents are just 2 percent more obese than the state average. In fact, that overall “health behaviors” rank is No.12 out of 62, and that has a lot to do with the fact that Saratoga County residents have a lot more access to exercise equipment: Whereas Rensselaer County scores a 76 percent for “access to exercise opportunities,” that shoots up to 90 percent in Saratoga.

You can reach any number of conclusions from those data. Should I be better about my daily intake? Absolutely. Should I move to Saratoga? I lived there for 18 years already, which has got to add up to something, right? But per the data, Saratoga County still has a percentage of its population that is considered obese—and well, America on the whole, is a hot-bed for fat creation. As of September 2018, per the most recent Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data, obesity rates among American adults is now greater than 35 percent in seven states, 30 percent in 29 states and 25 percent in 48 states. (West Virginians are the most obese, while Coloradans are the least so.) And those numbers are ever-increasing. Thankfully, New Yorkers are among the least obese in the country, ranking 45th out of all 50 states, but it’s not like we’re completely off the hook.

Case in point: Some brand-new data from Diet Spotlight, a Coral Gables, FL-based health reviews and research firm, which also markets and sells dietary supplements, meal-replacement shakes and the like, sheds some not-so-flattering light on a few counties in the Capital Region—including Saratoga. It’s worth noting that Diet Spotlight’s data set was gleaned from “people interested in weight-loss supplements, fat burners, meal replacement shakes and other products/services designed for people trying to lose weight.” In other words, these are folks that are likely already struggling with obesity (or teeter-tottering on the edge), who are looking for alternative ways of battling the bulge. How did Diet Spotlight gather those data? Customers who visited their website filled out a questionnaire that was then tied to their zip code and further crunched, in relation to gender, age, height, weight and a list of other factors. Diet Spotlight’s research covered more than 1000 counties in the US with hundreds of submissions from customers in each zip code—and while the data set isn’t quite as comprehensive as, say, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s or CDC’s, it does tease out some interesting tidbits about how our locality does, comparatively, on the bathroom scale.

To keep the comparison focused on the counties I referred to above, in Rensselaer County, on average, a man looking to lose weight via alternate means weighed in at a whopping 226 pounds (remember, you’re obese if you’re 30-plus years old, 5-foot-9 and weigh more than 203 pounds, per the CDC). The average age of said obese man? Forty-seven years old. Per Diet Spotlight’s numbers, what that means is, compared to the state average, these Rensselaer County men have an average of 58.3 pounds to lose not be obese. (Need I also remind men of a certain age that their metabolism slows way down as they get older.) Compare Rensselaer to Saratoga County, and for men looking to shed pounds in the same way, things do get a little peachier, but not so much. The average Saratoga County man looking to cut back his weight via alternate means weighs 213 pounds, which means that man needs to lose 57.4 pounds in order to escape obesity. His median age is also 47. (There are no data for Albany County, but you can check out the numbers for Schenectady County here.)

Needless to say, the average Saratoga County resident, whether he be the picture of health or looking to shave off a few jeans sizes, has it off better than most Upstate New Yorkers. Obviously, before you go off and purchase, then start downing handfuls of dietary supplements like M&Ms, get in touch with your doctor and make sure it’s OK to do that. And if it isn’t, I’ll see you at Anatomie.

Will Levith

Will Levith is the Director of Content for saratogaliving.com and the Executive Editor for saratoga living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others.

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