The 500 Cities Project: New Data for Better Health

From the article by Oktawia wojcik on the Culture of Health Blog:

Old Colony YMCA in Brockton, Massachusetts recently discovered something startling: a single neighborhood more burdened by poor health such as asthma, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol than surrounding areas. Most surprising, however, was that this particular area had a lower prevalence of unhealthy behaviors like binge drinking than other locations within Brockton.

In the past, public health officials may have expended limited resources on the entire Brockton metropolitan area because they wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint the specific neighborhood facing the spike and determine why it was happening.

But since new data revealed that health behaviors were not the culprit, officials focused on partnering with regional organizations to address the social determinants of health. These include social and economic factors like unsafe streets, a lack of jobs, and limited availability of fresh, nutritious food.

Brockton’s experience illustrates how instrumental data on small geographic areas is in designing effective approaches to addressing health needs within a community. Thanks to the 500 Cities Project, a first-of-its-kind data resource from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and CDC Foundation, Brockton officials were able to learn about their community’s health at a level of detail never seen before: the Census tract (defined as subdivisions of a county, averaging around 4000 people). Knowing where a community thrives or suffers is essential to addressing poor health and efficiently utilizing resources to ensure everyone has the opportunity to lead healthier lives.

The 500 Cities Project

Data on the largest 500 Cities in the nation are available now, via map and data books at the 500 Cities site. But beginning March 2, an interactive website will give anyone—from public health stakeholders to curious residents—the ability to retrieve, visualize, and explore uniformly-defined city and census tract-level data for the 500 largest U.S. cities.

This collaboration between the CDC, the CDC Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides analysis of 27 chronic disease measures, health outcomes, and clinical preventive service use. The data, derived from small area estimates, will empower anyone to better see how health varies by location and plan tailored interventions.

Traditionally, public health officials were limited by health data available only at the state or county level. But a third of the U.S. population resides within cities, which are only a portion of the overall county or state population. This website finally illustrates city level information on the risk behaviors associated with illness and early death, as well as the health conditions and diseases that are the most common, costly, and preventable.

Cities chosen for the project represent the largest 497 cities in the nation by population, with three additional cities added to cover all 50 U.S. states (Burlington, Vt.; Charleston, W. Va.; and Cheyenne, Wyo.). The website, data and map books deliver timely, high-quality, small-area epidemiologic health data for cities and small areas within cities. City populations range from 42,417 (Burlington, Vt.) to 8,175,133 (New York City). Approximately a third of the nation’s population is represented in the data, which includes measurements on 5 unhealthy behaviors (e.g., current smoking), 13 health outcomes (e.g., coronary heart disease, diabetes, etc.), and 9 prevention practices (e.g., health insurance coverage, cholesterol screening, etc.). A complete list of health measures, definitions and a city list are available at the 500 Cities website.

Read the full article.