500 Cities Project offers new data for health

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.

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 collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the CDC Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson 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 4,000 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 features an interactive website that gives 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 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.

Back in Old Colony YMCA, officials are using 500 Cities data along with other data sets to fine-tune prevention efforts. They know that two area emergency departments have extremely high rates of hospitalizations for poorly-managed diabetes. 500 Cities data reveal that many of these hospitalizations arise from the same census tract, which suffers from nearly twice the rates of diabetes as neighboring tracts.

Brockton Knocks Down Diabetes, a local coalition of over 40 organizations, combined two 500 Cities maps to pinpoint the best locations to hold educational workshops. By focusing on the areas with the greatest need for those two indicators, they hope to have the greatest impact.

Story exerpted from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Feb. 23, 2017, Culture of Health blog post by Oktawia Wójcik.

Learn more: To find out how you can help CDC safeguard America’s health, or to learn more, contact Advancement at the CDC Foundation: advancement@cdcfoundation.org, 404.653.0790.

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