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Healthiest cities rankings: What does this actually mean?

city fitness

By Elizabeth Nolan Brown for

Men’s and Women’s Health magazines have ranked the ‘healthiest U.S. cities‘ for each gender, with Raleigh, N.C. topping the list for women and Burlington, Vermont topping the list for men. But what does that actually mean? And can you be healthy in an ‘unhealthy’ city?

Rankings like these—based on 30 different criteria, ranging from obesity and breast cancer rates to how often residents saw doctors to the percentage of adults who ate the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables—take a pretty comprehensive approach. But I still feel like these types of surveys often miss the mark, or at least don’t tell me enough about how possible it is to live healthily in different cities.

Why do rankings of ‘healthiest’ places—cities, states, countries—captivate our attention the way they do, anyway? Can you actually glean meaningful information from this data? I’m not sure.

We can certainly see patterns like ‘diabetes is more common in certain southern states’ and infer that something about lifestyle in those states gives rise to more diabetes, right? But it tells us nothing meaningful about how easy (or not) healthy living and eating are in a given city, how possible it is to be a healthy, eco-friendly person there.

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