HEALTHY LIVING
12/06/2011 05:11 pm ET | Updated Dec 08, 2011

St. Petersburg Is The 'Saddest' City In America? Try Telling Residents That

So in case you hadn't yet heard, St. Petersburg, Fla., received the dubious honor of being America's saddest city, according to a ranking by Men's Health magazine.

But since the ranking was released last week, some residents of St. Pete have been less than thrilled. iLovetheBurg.com, a website covering goings-on of Downtown St. Pete, even published an editorial rebutting the ranking, pointing out that it did not include measures of quality of life or days of sunshine.

"Anyone who's ever been to St. Pete would know the article's 'findings' are laughable. And not just because of the obvious; beautiful weather, continual sunshine, nearby wildlife preserves and beaches that are continually voted the best in the world, but it's the city's uniqueness that would contradict Men's Health's own findings," the iLovetheBurg.com editorial team told HuffPost.

The Men's Health ranking was based, admittedly, purely on statistics ("Of course, we aren't shrinks, so our diagnosis is more statistical than psychological," their article stated). The analysis included unemployment rate, suicide rate, percentage of households with antidepressant use, and percentage of people who reported feeling blue. However, the iLovetheBurg.com editorial team countered that the many other elements of St. Pete -- including waterfront public park space, art collections, restaurants and nightlife -- mean that the city isn't as sad as it's being made out to be.

"Of course, nothing's perfect," they noted. "Florida is home to pill mills, the housing bubble hit us hard and many of us are upside down on our mortgages. And while people may find themselves depressed -- unhappy? Hardly."

Ernest Hooper, metro columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, wrote an op-ed about the ranking, saying:

Yes, the city, like any, is not without problems, but if the Men's Health editors went beyond the raw data and spent time at the Saturday Morning Market or the Independent, surely they would draw a different conclusion.

And April Lott, president and CEO of Directions for Mental Health Inc. in Clearwater, Fla., told the Tampa Bay Business Journal that certain excluded factors skewed the rankings.

"It is concerning to me that factors such as crime rate (St. Pete’s has decreased), the divorce rate (also down), and the weather (we have tons of sunshine) were not considered," Lott told the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Dr. Michael French, Ph.D., professor of health economics at the University of Miami, said that it's really not all that surprising that some St. Pete residents are riled up over their place in the ranking.

"Any city at the bottom of the list of something that's not a desirable index is understandable," French told HuffPost. "I'm sure there's issues associated with tourism or business interests in the city as well, so it's probably some civic pride, and it's probably concern about some economic fallout as well."

He also pointed out that other Florida cities landed on the "saddest cities" top 10 list -- Tampa and Miami, too, made appearances. French attributed this to the fact that the economic recession has hit Florida particularly hard, and that the measures used in the ranking may at least partially reflect that because it took into account unemployment rate (just more than 10 percent of the labor force in Florida, compared with 8.6 percent for the U.S.).

"The west coast of Florida is a fair degree more depressed in an economic sense relative to the east coast" of the state, French said. "Cities like Sarasota, Tampa, St. Pete and Fort Myers tend to be going through much more difficult times right now than the east coast, like Miami, Palm Beach and other areas. So I believe a lot of it has to do with the economic recession and how that's affecting Florida cities."

TIME reported that the state of Florida has actually been seeing an exodus of residents lately:

Florida actually saw a net population loss of 58,000 in 2009, the first for the state since World War II, and here's what many of them have been telling us: the peninsula didn't turn out to be the paradise they'd been promised. The ever-widening gap between what people earn in Florida, a state that continues to rely on low-wage industries like tourism, and what it costs to live there -– there actually is a state income tax in Florida, and it's called homeowner's insurance -– is just one factor clouding the sunshine.

French said that it was a good idea for Men's Health to look at unemployment rate for their ranking, but said that looking at other objective measures like commuting time -- which can make people stressed -- and median household income would have been good to include.

"There's pretty strong correlation between income and both objective quality of life, as well as subjective measures of happiness," he said.

But true or not, in the end, French said that most people just don't want to be assigned that sort of negative label.

"'Sad' is a high-charged term, and no one wants to be called sad," he said.

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