You'd think that a publication with an all-encompassing moniker like Health would attempt to appeal to a wide swath of the magazine-devouring public - to slender urban sophisticates, to geriatric hypochondriacs, to red-state knotheads balancing bowls of ice cream on their stomachs as they watch "Leno." But no, Health is just another chick-health title, replete with cover lines like "Cellulite Solutions That Really Work" and "How to Fall in Love With Your Workout."
Don't let the women's-mag conventions fool you, however. If the May issue is any indication of things to come, the newly redesigned Health should lap its lower-minded competitors before too long. It encourages without pandering, advises without preaching, informs without alarming. A magazine can, it seems, service the needs of this audience without appealing to the lowest common denominator.
It's rare when a graphic revamp elevates a publication to another level, but the new Health is a triumph of presentation (no, I can't believe I just wrote that sentence, either). Whereas the mag used to look as lumpy as any other sidebar-addled women's title, Health now boasts a bright, color-coded, almost modular design. It could prove limiting over time - there's not a whole lot of room built in for graphic improvisation - but on first glance, it's a perfect fit.
The magazine also seems to have made a conscious effort to alter its writing style. Outside of word-free shopping rags like Lucky, few magazines have successfully divvied up large chunks of text into easily digestible nuggets. Health now gets to the point considerably more quickly than before: anecdotal, melodramatic lead paragraphs are kept to a merciful minimum, replaced by - gasp! - simple declaratory sentences that merely set the stage for what follows.
Health also deserves props for finding ways to revisit tired material in a creative manner. In the "Moving" (fitness) section, the mag serves up a Q&A with a Hollywood stuntwoman and offers tips on camouflaging design-challenged fitness equipment. "Living" highlights the rarely discussed health benefits of coffee, while "Feeling" uses the calendar hook of Mother's Day to discuss hospice arrangements.
Too, the usual pointless quizzes and lists ("Four easy ways to know if your scalp itches: 1. You are constantly beset with the urge to scratch it.") are replaced by actual information. For example, apparently the Lance Armstrong Foundation's yellow "Life Strong" bracelets closely resemble one Florida hospital system's do-not-resuscitate bracelets, which could lead to a decidedly non-wacky sitcom mishap.
Health isn't totally immune to the dopiness indigenous to its genre. An item in the "Flavor" section suggests that one should "lose the bacon" to make sandwiches more healthy (sacrilege!). Similarly, a listing of the best ways to remember where you've parked your car includes the suggestion that once you find it, you should "drive to the gym" (somebody coming up short on his or her word count?). The magazine also suffers from another common malady: its blissed-out female images ain't exactly representative of the population as a whole.
These lapses aside, Health rarely insults the intelligence. Subject-wise, it may offer the usual healthy-living pap - the May issue features items on skin protection, hair protection, teeth protection, and garden protection - but it frames the material in a way that seems at once fresh and smart. Add a design that both complements and illuminates the editorial content, and you've got a book that should become the genre's go-to title for readers and marketers alike.