Ready to make a healthy change? Maybe the solution is to relocate to a healthier environment. On Monday, ZocDoc, an online doctor scheduling service, published their list of the 10 Most Health-Conscious Cities of 2012. Approximately two million people per month use ZocDoc to digitally pencil in preventative sessions with a local doctor. But does counting scheduled doctor’s appointments actually measure the overall health of a population?
What's the Deal?
ZocDoc has a massive user base, and to compile the list it looked at the percentage of users who booked preventative appointments in each city. While ZocDoc couldn’t release the exact sample size, the findings raise an interesting question: Why don't the ZocDoc numbers match up with many other lists rating the healthiest cities in the U.S.? ZocDoc’s top 10 health-conscious cities are:
- Washington DC
- Northern New Jersey
In fact, some urban areas like Atlanta, which regularly ends up in “least healthy cities” lists, made ZocDoc's top rankings. The American Fitness Index, for example, lists the healthiest cities in the U.S. as Minneapolis (1), Washington, D.C. (2), and Boston (3). Austin, which topped ZocDoc's list, was ranked tenth in the Index.
Healthy cities lists typically take a few factors into account. The researchers behind the AFI report considered incidences of health issues like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and obesity in each city. They also number-crunched smoking, healthcare coverage, and exercise rates. In addition, the list took a look at fitness-promoting structures and health programs in each urban area like farmer’s markets, public parks, sports and recreation centers, and active commute initiatives.
By contrast, ZocDoc’s list is based on self-reported doctor appointments which show how much people care about their health, but not necessarily how healthy they are. So, what do the numbers tell us? Unsurprisingly, January is the most popular month to set up a doctor’s appointment (hello, New Year’s Resolution!). Men schedule up to 8 percent fewer appointments than women, and the highest number of dermatology appointments took place among Portlandians while Philadelphians care the most about their pearly whites. Further, people in famously fast-paced cities (ahem, LA and NYC) book the highest percentage of last minute, day-of appointments.
Why It Matters
The discrepancy between the two lists proves an important point — there’s more than one way to be healthy, and it’s important to care about both external and internal factors. Due to confidentiality and legal agreements, ZocDoc could not release specific information about the exact number or demographic of the people who used their scheduling service. More importantly, ZocDoc's list doesn't actually take into account the health of its users or how often they actually attend scheduled appointments, simply the total amount of clients in any given city who signed up to see a doctor. While this is limiting, it does offer a different measure of "health." It's one thing to "look healthy" (washboard abs, sleek physiques) and another to care about making better choices in all aspects of health. Oftentimes the two overlap and the AFI does incorporate not just obesity rate but also illness and health-based infrastructure. It is a fairly accurate measurement, but it is a birds-eye view. ZocDoc's list isn't the perfect solution, but it does help show to show that heading to the MD when something feels off can be just as important as eating right, looking good, and fitting in a daily sweat session.
Update: Zoc Doc recently released their "U.S. Health Checkup" for 2013. Check it out here.
Which "healthy cities" list do you think is more important? Tell us in the comments below or tweet the author at @SophBreene.
Photo by jamott