Since the enactment of the Clean Air Act in 1970, there has been growing awareness for the importance of good air quality in American cities. Air quality plays a significant role with health and sustainable living. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recognizes this, which is why for the 2019 American Fitness Index rankings, the ACSM added air quality as an environmental indicator of a city’s health. According to its findings, these are the 10 cities in the U.S. with the worst air quality.

The annual Fitness Index assesses 100 of the United States’ largest metropolitan areas. The cities are evaluated, then ranked from the highest score to the lowest score. The index is a helpful tool to compare the air quality of these 100 cities. It does so by considering the healthy behaviors of a city’s residents, the population of residents with chronic diseases as well as the community’s infrastructure. In turn, the rankings provide insight on air quality safety that can helpfully instruct a city’s policy makers, infrastructure management and governmental direction.

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According to the 2019 Fitness Index, these are the 10 worst metropolitan areas with bad air quality, or air pollution. They each have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution:

  1. Long Beach, California
  2. Los Angeles, California
  3. Gilbert, Arizona
  4. Phoenix, Arizona
  5. Scottsdale, Arizona
  6. Chandler, Arizona
  7. Mesa, Arizona
  8. Glendale, Arizona
  9. Riverside, California
  10. Bakersfield, California

What determines air quality? Geography and weather are the natural agents influencing air quality. But man-made elements — including vehicular use plus industrial emissions — especially affect air quality. In fact, two of the most common pollutants are ozone and particles, like soot from wildfires.

Exposure to pollutants and airborne toxins predisposes a given area or region’s population to ailments. These include cardiovascular harm (heart disease and stroke), shortness of breath, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, wheezing, coughing, susceptibility to infections, even allergies — all of which can be influenced and impacted by air pollution.

Annual rankings indicate a consistent monitoring of air quality, which is a positive takeaway. This type of monitoring can inform agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), so that key safeguards and their enforcement can be put in place.

+ American Fitness Index

Image via Florian Lehmuth