Health rankings are all about definitions and what you measure — an important lesson with broad implications. A new health ranking of US cities by Wallet Hub is not great news for Connecticut. Of America’s 174 most populous cities, Bridgeport is #88 and New Haven is #98. Five cities in surrounding states are healthier than ours. New York City ranks #6 and Boston at #19. But how does this square with America’s Health Rankings’ finding that Connecticut is the fourth healthiest state in the nation?
The difference comes down to weights, measures, and methodology. Wallet Hub’s ranking only considers each city proper, excluding suburbs. America’s Health Rankings considers entire states. Wallet Hub’s 43 measures fall into four equally-weighted categories – healthcare, food, fitness, and green space. Three metrics are over-weighted – premature deaths, inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption, and physically active adults. America’s Health Rankings’ 33 measures cover clinical care, community and environment, health behaviors, outcomes, and policy (which is very cool). Connecticut is best in the nation on smoking rates, but worst on drug deaths.
It’s always dangerous to stop at headlines or summaries. Too often these rankings are used to suggest that Connecticut is fine – don’t make any big changes. Alternatively, they are also used to suggest that we are in big trouble – usually linked to an appeal to fund something. The details in these rankings help point us to Connecticut’s strengths and our weaknesses. The metrics and weights they choose help us see where we can improve. Connecticut has both much to be proud of but lots of room for improvement.