Admit it, Mesa residents, your jeans aren’t fitting like they did last year. You’ve shamelessly been eating bread. When the elevator’s broken, you consider whether your car can navigate the stairs. How do we know?
This month’s Men’s Fitness, which includes “The Fittest and Fattest Cities in America 2007.”
Mesa is ranked the nation’s fourth fattest city, up six spots from 2006. Understandably, some people are in denial.
“I really find it hard to believe,” said Robert Granillo, a Mesa resident, as he scurried around Fiesta Mall on Friday. “In fact, I personally don’t believe it at all.”
Why wouldn’t you trust Men’s Fitness? It’s published by American Media, which also owns the National Enquirer and Weekly World News, the publication that first introduced “Bat Boy” to grocery checkout lines.
According to the magazine: “We spend months poring over statistics on the things that make real people fit or fat, from weather patterns to junk food, from availability of public recreational facilities to TV-viewing habits.”
If Mesa is looking for a nearby role model, perhaps it should bypass Phoenix (ranked the 21st fattest) and head south. Tucson has cracked the magazine’s top five fittest cities.
So, what is the Old Pueblo doing right?
For those who want details about how Men’s Fitness separated the sleek from the slothful, the magazine refers people to its Web site. Alas, clicking on the features link brings up a page that tells you, “the page you requested is not available.”
Men’s Fitness editors could not be reached for comment on Friday.
According to The Associated Press and an article about the rankings on About.com, a general information site, there are 14 categories the magazine uses to rate the nation’s 50 largest cities. Those include how many bars and fast-food restaurants are available to lure residents away from their diets. The source appears to be Yellowpages.com.
The Tribune ran a search for those types of establishments through Yellowpages.com, a sometimes outdated electronic phone book. The results confused more than clarified.
Mesa has 25 fast-food joints for every 100,000 residents. Tucson has 35 for every 100,000.
As for bars, Mesa offers fewer than five for every 100,000 residents. Watering holes appear to be more plentiful in Tucson, as there are 16 bars for every 100,000 residents.
Tucson does have more gyms than Mesa. It is unclear, however, how Men’s Fitness determines if those memberships are being used.
Questions have also been raised about editors’ bias influencing the rankings.
Last year, Baltimore was named the nation’s fittest metropolis after ranking as the 25th fattest just 12 months earlier. The magazine’s top editor, Neal Boulton, a Baltimore native, told the Baltimore Sun that the city’s housing boom brought in a horde of young professionals that boosted its score.
Boulton denied that he played favorites. This year, Baltimore comes in as eighth fittest.
“It’s definitely not scientific,” Carol Johnston, head of the Department of Nutrition at Arizona State University Polytechnic, said of the study.
Boulton acknowledges that the methodology is not scientifically sound. “This is a common-sense list,” Boulton told The Associated Press.
But that doesn’t mean Mesans are keeping their good cholesterol up and the bad down.
National health surveys conducted every year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the percentage of Arizonans who can be considered overweight has grown as much as 10 percentage points the past decade.
The rates of diabetes and binge drinking in the Valley, which includes all the cities that circle the capitol, are virtually identical to the national average. But the national averages have crept higher in recent years, the surveys show.
The state Department of Health Services doesn’t measure how healthy citizens are in one city versus another, said Lisa De Marie, a nutrition coordinator with the agency. “In terms of assessing communities, there’s nothing formally done to say south Phoenix does this, this and this,”
Rather than measuring cities, people should be measuring their waistlines — literally.
Johnston said that “waist circumference” tells people a lot about their risk for the “basic chronic diseases that people are dying of.”
For women, anything larger than 35 inches might signal trouble, she said. For men, the alarm should sound above 40 inches.
If the rankings don’t accurately rank, then what is the purpose?
“Publicity,” Carol Schwalbe, an ASU journalism professor, said while laughing.
Readers like numbers and lists. Rankings (five ways to do this, 10 ways to avoid that) satisfy both desires.
Schwalbe wrote for National Geographic for 30 years and said even the staid chronicler of wildlife, science and foreign culture falls prey. Articles about polar bears always make readers swoon.
Magazines “like the spike in publicity. They like the newsstand sales,” Schwalbe said. Note how the article you’re reading began prominently on the front page. The features attract attention for another, more personal, reason. “Like if you see a group photo and you always look at yourself first,” Schwalbe said, “to see if your eyes were closed.” Or if your potbelly is showing.
Top 5 fattest cities
1. Las Vegas
2. San Antonio
5. Los Angeles
Top 5 fittest cities
1. Albuquerque, N.M.
3. Colorado Springs, Colo.
SOURCE: MEN’S FITNESS