Sunday, January 08, 2006

Indiscriminate fitness magazine picks on a new city this year

Now Chicago is the fattest city instead of Houston, according to the completely random and arbitrary criteria of Men's Fitness magazine (WP with national rankings, HBJ with Texas specifics, Chronicle on Houston), which ranked the Top 25 Fittest and Fattest Cities out of a group of 50. We dropped to #5, behind #4 Dallas. I'd trumpet this, except their judging system is so out-of-control from year to year it has no meaning.

LA moves from 21st fittest to the third fattest city in the country in one year? Did the entire city go on an eating binge or exercise strike for some reason?

Phoenix moves from 12th fattest to 15th fittest in one year? Atlanta moves from 23rd fattest to 16th fittest? Baltimore wins this year's award for the fittest city, when they were 25th fattest last year? (not to mention ranked 93rd out of a 100 by rival Men's Health) Do we believe some epidemic of fitness consciousness broke out in these cities? Half the Washington Post article makes fun of the result. It's almost as if the magazine editors toyed with their judging criteria and formula until it got a winner no one believes - a sure fire way to get lots of free publicity, which, of course, is the point of doing these lightweight rankings anyway: to sell more magazines.

Here's what they had to say about Houston's four-place improvement:
"I'm proud of you guys," said editor Neal Boulton. "You're down to five ... It takes an enormous effort to go down that much from that height."
Oh really? If it takes "enormous effort" to move four places, what kind of effort did it take in those cities like Phoenix, Atlanta, and Baltimore that moved between 11 and 26 places? Did they ban unhealthy foods at the city limits and require their citizens to jog to work every day? Or, more likely, did Men's Fitness slightly tweak their judging criteria which completely re-sorted the rankings? (as arbitrary formulas often do) Sounds like the "enormous effort" was a couple equation changes in an Excel spreadsheet. Note to ranking groups: if a minor change to your formula radically changes your rankings, it's a sign your formula is very, very suspect.

And what do they have to say for themselves?
"How could such a turnaround be possible in the span of a year? Men's Fitness editor Neal Boulton is quick to point out that the survey is far from scientific..."
Well, at least they're being up front about it. But every year the press eats it up. What's the criteria for newsworthiness here? Maybe somebody should start a couple new sets of annual rankings:
  • Top 25 Most Meaningless Annual Rankings
  • Top 25 Media Outlets That Will Publish Any Meaningless but Fun Statistics Sent Their Way
That might create some helpful public pressure. Well, unless they use indiscriminate criteria and arbitrary formulas and can't get published, but it doesn't look like that will be a problem.


At 9:02 PM, January 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forget how it goes exactly and who said it, but

"the are three types of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics"

and I think whoever it was, was talking about statistics from statiticians and not a bunch of journalists.

At 9:24 PM, January 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was SOOO nice of Mr. Boulton to compliment us like that. It did wonders for my self-esteem. Too bad I cannot return the favor to his magazine.

There is something that Mr. Boulton apparently failed to realize, but I, a loyal NON-reader of his rag, do. These obviously badly researched "lists" highlight the poor quality of the magazine and its articles. I already knew this, having seen one too many covers trumpetting crunches as a way to achieve six-pack abs, in spite of all research to the contrary, but now everyone knows what a joke these tree killers are.

At 9:30 PM, January 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, our annual marathon is next Sunday, and the MS150, the biggest bike ride in the country, cut off registration last Friday, 3 1/2 months before the ride, because it already reached its self-imposed limit of 13,000 riders!

Somehow, I'll bet that didn't make it into the article.

At 9:39 PM, January 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regardless of the very flawed methods, there's no denying that we're a buncha fatsos.

At 10:49 AM, January 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What's the criteria for newsworthiness here?"

I'm sure that the cities are chosen for their Men's Health magazine buying rates and not necessarily for their fatness. Controversy in the sense of "How dare this magazine call us fat; I'll have to check it out next time I'm at the newsstand" will probably sell magazines in new markets where Men's Health isn't already popular.

However, I do agree with the other anonymous poster that we are a very, very fat city.


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