Pretzels, Bagels Earn Philly Another “Least Healthy City” Title

Massive Health calls Philly "the least healthy city in the United States" based on user data from its app Eatery.

Send me a press release in which you call Philadelphia the least healthy city in the U.S. and, sure, I’ll bite. The latest comes from the maker of a meal-tracker app called Eatery, which has users snap and upload photos of the food they eat, rate them on a sliding scale of “fat” to “fit,” and estimate portion sizes in order to help them understand their eating patterns—what times of day they make the healthiest choices, for example, or how their eating habits are impacted when they skip breakfast.

The folks at Massive Health, the developer who created the app, took five months of user-submitted data (amounting to “7.68 million food ratings of half-a-million foods by Eatery users from over 50 countries,” they say) and drew some conclusions about health trends. This crowd-sourced data “beats much more advanced algorithms,” they argue. To test its veracity:

…We looked at the aggregate Eatery scores for all meals eaten in a city versus the published obesity level in that city. It turns out there’s a strong correlation. Eatery data can accurately predict obesity levels of cities in the United States. That is, Eatery data strongly correlates with the healthiness of its users.

To that end, Massive Health deduced that Philadelphia is the least healthy city in the United States. Its proof? That we eat a lot of pretzels (4.8 times more than other cities); that we consume more cheddar cheese than our compatriots (3.6 times more than the national average); and that we eat more bagels than we should (3.6 times more than other cities). All of this—plus our latte addiction, apparently—netted us an unsavory Eatery health rating of 28.6 percent.

Despite the pizza for which it is famous (and, well, its bagels), New York City was dubbed the healthiest in the country, with a health rating of 83.6 percent, followed by San Francisco (67.6 percent health rating). For the record, New Yorkers eat more oatmeal than people in other cities, and San Franciscans eat 4.4 times the amount of Brussels sprouts.

Is it just me, or are the scientific underpinnings of this data, well, lacking? For one, Massive Health gives us no indication of how many users there are in each city, not to mention their demographics (age, gender, etc.). For all we know, there are five people in Philly who actually use this app, compared to the hundreds—maybe thousands—who use it in San Francisco (which, by the way, is where the app maker is headquartered—just saying). And who knows how representative those users are of their city’s residents as a whole?

Besides, the app doesn’t take into account users’ fitness or workout routines. I know for a fact that if I were to snap pictures of the food I eat and have someone assess my health based only on those pictures, my score would be in the toilet. What those pictures wouldn’t show are the hours logged at the gym or on the Schuylkill Trail, burning the calories I consumed when I scarfed those two pieces of pizza last night (true story).

Is pizza the healthiest choice? No. But I wouldn’t go calling me the least healthy person in America, either.