McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Despite efforts by local leaders to improve the health and fitness of their communities, three South Texas border towns have once again tipped the scale and have been named “most obese” cities in America, according to a new study.

The study released Wednesday named the South Texas border town metroplex of McAllen-Edinburg-Mission as “Most Overweight and Obese Cities in the U.S.” Coming in second were the Louisiana towns of Shreveport and Bossier. The healthiest cities were in California: San Francisco, Oakland and Hayward, followed by Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Texas border city of El Paso ranked 31st in the list of “Fattest Cities,” while San Diego came in 86th. Tucson, which is not far from the border, ranked 77th.

“Certain places are more responsible than others for tipping the scale in favor of bad health,” the study found. “Unfortunately, the extra pounds have inflated the costs of obesity-related medical treatment to approximately $190.2 billion a year and annual productivity losses due to work absenteeism to around $4.3 billion.”

The study of 100 U.S. metroplexes were based on “19 key indicators of weight-related problems,” including:

  • Breakdown of overweight and obese residents by gender and age, including children.
  • Percentage with cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Consumption by the population of fruits and vegetables, and healthy eating.
  • The unavailability of residents to buy nutritious foods.
  • The availability of parks and recreation facilities.
  • Share of physically inactive adults.
  • And “City Friendliness toward an Active Lifestyle.”

The last category makes the results of this latest study the toughest for McAllen leaders to swallow, McAllen Mayor Pro Tem Veronica Whitacre told Border Report.

“It’s crazy,” Whitacre said on Thursday morning. “Every person in the City of McAllen has access to parks and recreation. And it’s not just on one part of town. It’s north, south, east and west. I think we rebuttal.”

Adding to their frustration is preliminary anticipation that McAllen has once again won the It’s Time Texas statewide Community Challenge in the large-city category, raking in the most points for healthy eating, water consumption and fitness activities during an eight-week challenge that ended Sunday.

“We won again for the third year in the row the It’s Time Texas Challenge because of everything we’ve been trying to do and doing. We have a 5K in the City of McAllen every weekend. We actually have activities in the community for everyone. Where are they getting their documentation?” Whitacre asked.

It’s Time Texas, an Austin-based nonprofit, said it was releasing official winners next week. However the organization’s spokeswoman Tracy Walker told Border Report that it’s clear that McAllen has indeed won, again, accumulating over 6.5 million points — way more than any other Texas city.

“Officially nothing has been announced yet but we know that McAllen is going to come in tops,” Walker said, adding that nearly 3,500 residents participated during this year’s challenge, and the city hosted 50 community events, such as three community walks with the mayor.

“It’s not true, anecdotally, from what I’ve seen,” Walker said. “McAllen hosted so many community events.”

On Sunday, during the last Mayor’s Walk — a 4-mile walk/run event sponsored at the local hospital Rio Grande Regional Medical Center — McAllen Mayor Jim Darling told Border Report “We had a lot, a lot of people participating. That’s most important to me. Winning is second but how many people participated and hopefully we’ll have a healthy lifestyle because of this.”

Read a Border Report story on McAllen jumping to first place on Day 1 of the challenge.

Alas, Whitacre and others say they will have to beef up their efforts as they try to shed this unflattering image, which has haunted the city since a Gallup Poll in 2012 and 2013 named the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro as the most obese in the nation.

In 2018, McAllen was named in a study as having the highest share of obese adults at 44.9%, which is 2.5 times higher than in San Francisco, the metro area with the lowest obesity rate at 17.85%. The study also found the McAllen metro — which included the South Texas towns of Edinburg and Mission — to have the highest share of physically inactive adults at 36.9%. And that year was ranked as the third Fattest City in America.

This year’s WalletHub study cited McAllen-Edinburg-Mission as having the worst food and fitness options; and second-most obese and overweight residents. (Memphis, Tennessee was ranked No. 1 for most obese population this year.)

Whitacre says McAllen has over 80 parks, including those at public school facilities. But she concedes leaders will put their heads together to try to puzzle out how they can get out from under this weighty title.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at

Visit the homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.