Southampton: Britain’s healthiest city

Despite counting the injury-prone Matt Le Tissier among its residents, Southampton has emerged as the place to be for fit bodies and healthy hearts. In the MF Fattest Cities survey for 2001, the city didn’t even register a score for obesity, with just 26 per cent of its population having a Body Mass Index of over 3o, compared with 32 per cent in Stoke-on-Trent. Hardly surprising, then, that it has comparatively few deaths from heart disease, with 1,138 victims between 1992 and 1996, compared with 5,573 in Glasgow.


1 Southampton

2 London

3 Bradford

4 Bristol

5 Coventry

But before you get your trainers out and sprint down to the south coast, the locals also have a slight weakness for TV, while the city has the second highest number of pubs per moo people in the survey. But then all workout and no play makes for a very dull city. And while they might have a penchant for beer and East Enders, they also get out and about in the numerous gyms on offer. There are around 75,000 health club members in the area as opposed to their southern cousin, Plymouth, which has a poor 7,3.25.

Locals also make the most of their proximity to the sea. This September Southampton hosted a Waterfront Week, celebrating “all that is great about life on the water”, and there are clubs where you can windsurf, sail and even dabble in white-water rafting. And the good climate only adds to the appeal of getting out more.

London also has an abundance of water, but it’s more of the murky, rat-infested kind. In fact, most of inner London is polluted and overcrowded, but it is still somehow the second healthiest city in the UK. This could simply be due to its large population, which means that no matter how many pubs and fast-food restaurants there are, there could never be enough to keep everyone drunk and fat. This is certainly the case with health clubs, because despite the city boasting the highest number with 191, its still a paltry figure in relation to its population of 2,343,133.

Surely a large factor in London’s good health is the multi-cultural aspect of the city. Us Brits aren’t known for our healthy cuisine, but the influence of Japanese and European food has had a positive impact on the eating habits of many Londoners. In fact, Sushi is outselling the traditional sandwich in many supermarkets. Even if it’s just the latest trend, Londoners watch what they eat.

Another city famous for its ethnic diversity and culinary delights is Bradford. And who would have thought that curry would keep you trim? But then the third position occupied by this northern city doesn’t show the whole picture. Although its only high score is for TV viewing,
it scores consistently across the table for the number of pubs and lack of open space and health clubs. All of which contributes to 2,866 heart-related deaths in 1992-6.

Bristol and Coventry occupy fourth and fifth place, respectively, and tell a similar tale. Both cities show an unhealthy interest in TV, have poor eating habits and too few facilities to get some exercise. But despite these figures incidents of heart disease and obesity remain relatively low.
And it really is relative. Because, as we revealed last month, the UK’s health is in crisis, and while these cities may boast the best figures, they still have health problems that need addressing. There’s always the option of moving to Japan, where the low-fat diet has given its citizens the world’s longest average life expectancy of 74 years.