CDC interactive website brings health data down to the neighborhood level

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A new interactive web application has been launched to provide local health departments with city- and neighborhood-level health data for the 500 largest U.S. cities in order to better understand the areas over which they have jurisdiction and assist them in planning interventions that are most needed.

The platform—called the 500 Cities Project—is the result of a partnership between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It’s aimed at providing local area estimates for 27 chronic disease measures, focusing on conditions, behaviors and risk factors that have a negative impact on population health.

These local area estimates are used to model the prevalence of chronic conditions such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes, as well as five unhealthy behaviors including obesity, smoking, insufficient physical activity, binge drinking and lack of sleep.

The data comes from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which uses annual telephone surveys to collect state data about U.S. residents regarding their health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions and use of preventive services.

However, to get down below the county level, the agency has applied statistical modeling techniques to the surveillance data to develop city- and census tract-level estimates. Use of the health data for more than 100 million people—or about a third of the U.S. population—has produced estimates for the 500 largest American cities and about 28,000 census tracts within these cities.

“We put our initial data estimates out on the website back in December as part of a soft launch with static map products, and this month we launched our revised website that now incorporates an interactive mapping application,” says James Holt, team leader for analytic methods at the CDC’s Division of Population Health in Atlanta.

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The interactive mapping application, based on 2010 census population data, enables users to zoom in to their neighborhoods and look at local data, comparing it with that of an entire city. According to Holt, the dataset can be joined with census tract spatial data in a geographic information system (GIS) to produce maps of 27 measures at the census tract level in what he calls a “GIS-friendly” format.

The hope is that the data can help identify current and emerging chronic health issues facing a city or neighborhood, as well as assist in the development and implementation of targeted interventions.

“It is mainly designed as a planning aid,” adds Holt, who contends that local health officials can use the data estimates to “better understand the geographic distribution of risk factors and health outcomes in their cities.”

Going forward, he says the plan is to update the dataset later this year with 2015 BRFSS data, which includes 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.

Nonetheless, the future of the 500 Cities website is far from secure, according to Holt, who notes that funding for the platform runs out at the end of September. “The long-term outlook is still a little uncertain, so we’re actively pursuing the sustainability and resources to make that happen on an ongoing basis,” he adds.

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