Dismissing a Dopey US City Health Ranking

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shutterstock_213014266 Biking in New York City via Shutterstock

Getting in shape is hard. Staying in shape is even harder. So why does it seem that the more we analyze heath and health behavior, the only result appears to be more confusion? Maybe it's got something to do with those providing the information. More to the point: suspect information.

While navigating the best path to our own personal health is difficult, one thing is certain: Our environment plays a critical role in how we get there. And the folks at a research firm known as WalletHub insist they've uncovered the precise formula that will lead us towards this goal, by ranking the healthiest cities in the United States.

Unfortunately, they've missed the mark, in general and especially when it comes to the Big Apple.

WalletHub analysts compared the 100 most populated cities based on 24 metrics and divided them into two categories: Budgets and Participation, and Sports Facilities and Outdoor Environments. The goal? To determine how these two categories contribute to greater active lifestyles among residents.

Interestingly actually, absurdly New York City is at the bottom of this list, ranked 97th out of 100 municipalities, despite the fact that it is widely considered by most measures and surveys to be one of the healthiest places in which to live. In fact, The American Fitness Index, a much more comprehensive analysis compiled by the American College of Sports Medicine and sponsored by the Anthem Foundation, published in May 2015, ranked New York City 24th. Here it is for you to see. And a quick web search will provide even more evidence to undercut WalletHub's hub-bub.

How, do you ask, did this happen?

Well, WalletHub, according to its website, is a "one-stop-destination" dedicated to promoting greater consumer financial awareness, allowing consumers "to make better financial decisions and save money." And with the economic consequences of physical inactivity at an all-time high, the idea of the company's most recent survey makes sense.

But WalletHub s flawed methodology and restrictive criteria where community features such as bowling alleys and golf courses take precedence over neighborhood walkability is what in its view, statistically speaking, crushed the Big Apple into pulp. However, the problem lies in WalletHub's failure to acknowledge New York City's most defining feature: the "built environment."

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this environment consists of all of the physical parts of where one lives and works (e.g., homes, buildings, streets, open spaces, and infrastructure) and can have a huge influence on a person s level of physical activity and subsequent health status.

In recent years, New York City has taken one of the nation's most proactive approaches to facilitate activity among urban dwellers through the increased accessibility to walking paths, outdoor parks and large scale waterfront development with bikeways. And with the sky-high costs of maintaining a car in the city, or taking taxis more than just occasionally, most New Yorkers .... walk. A lot.

What's more, smoking is banned in all bars, restaurants and public places, which helped smoking rates drop to some of the lowest in the nation. (We could go on, but let's just leave it at that, so as not to rub it in.)

And with Citibikes, the recent launch of a comprehensive, bike-sharing enterprise, more and more commuters are cycling to their destinations, whether it be to school, work or leisure-related. This focus on leveraging the built environment to promote active lifestyles among residents has great potential to lead to better health outcomes such as decreased obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

It's clear that cities can be shaped so that they effectively promote (or, as the case may be, inhibit) physical activity. But it's not about how many rounds of golf one plays neither is it about bowling that spare, strike, or perfect game.

So to say that New York City fails to promote an active lifestyle is, for lack of a better word, nonsense. Since most have already agreed that its a city synonymous with an active and healthy lifestyle.