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Population Health Tool that Provides City-Level Data Expands to 500 Cities

May 21, 2018
by Heather Landi
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A data visualization tool that helps city officials understand the health status of their population, called the City Health Dashboard, has now expanded to 500 of the largest cities in the U.S., enabling local leaders to identify and take action around the most pressing health needs in their cities and communities.

The New York University School of Medicine’s Department of Population Health, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and in partnership with NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the National Resource Network, the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the National League of Cities, created the City Health Dashboard, an online resource with community-level health, social and economic data.

The City Health Dashboard gives local governments the ability to track 36 key measures and drivers of health, such as obesity and opioid overdose deaths, as well as the conditions that influence health, including housing affordability, third grade reading proficiency, and income inequality. The dashboard was piloted in 2017 in four cities—Flint, Michigan; Kansas City, Kansas; Providence, Rhode Island; and Waco, Texas.

“It represents a first-of-its-kind effort to provide city- and neighborhood-level data from multiple national sources--creating a one-stop online resource to help city leaders and residents pinpoint and take action on gaps in health and opportunity. The City Health Dashboard gives users the ability to view many of its measures according to race and gender. The dashboard also allows users to compare their city to others and provides resources for best practices and policies, creating an opportunity to explore how to address specific challenges,” according to a press release.

Unique to the dashboard is its neighborhood-level detail and economic/demographic data cross-tracking. These informatics features empower cities to easily pinpoint differing health outcomes as well as contributors thereto. According to the City Health Dashboard program leaders, the city-specific data offers a revealing look at how health outcomes and opportunities for health vary widely depending on where you live.

According to an article by Healthcare Informatics Contributing Editor David Raths, writing for Government Technology, back in 2017, Marc Gourevitch, chair of the Department of Population Health at the NYU School of Medicine and principal investigator for the City Health Dashboard, said the dashboard puts into a framework data that hasn’t been visible to city-level managers before.

“Many of these data elements are available at the county level, but city managers are responsible for making policies that influence the people who live in their boundaries,” he explained. If a city is in the far southwest corner of a county that is four times as big as the city, the obesity rate data for the county is not that helpful, he said, and collecting that kind of data can be very expensive and time consuming. “The goal was to take data sets that power county-level data and code it to the city level.”

In a press release statement, Gourevitch said, “There’s a saying: 'what gets measured is what gets done.’ Only with local data can community leaders understand where actionable gaps in opportunity exist and target programs and policy changes to address them.”

Other findings from the City Health Dashboard include:

Health behaviors and conditions vary widely between cities. For instance, the prevalence of smoking ranges from less than 12 percent among adults in the 50 cities with the lowest rates, to 25 percent or more in the cities with the highest rates. In the 50 cities with the lowest diabetes rates, less than 7 percent of adults have diabetes, while in the 50 cities with the highest rates, 14 percent or more of adults have the condition.

Economic opportunities for children vary greatly between cities: Poverty and other economic stressors pose risks to the health of communities, and substantial variation exists between cities. For instance, while only 3 percent of children live in poverty in the wealthiest cities, greater than 60 percent of children are below poverty in the most deprived cities.

Cities in the West consistently have better health: On average, cities in the West have lower rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes compared to cities in other regions and the U.S. as a whole.

“We all have a role to play in improving well-being in our communities and ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities to be healthy, no matter where they live,” Abbey Cofsky, RWJF managing director, program, said in a statement. “With city and neighborhood-specific data, community leaders, city officials, and advocates now have a clearer picture of the biggest local challenges they face, and are better positioned to drive change.”

Overseen by a team of population health and urban policy experts, epidemiologists, and geographic information system specialists, the City Health Dashboard website displays measures and drivers of health through interactive maps, tables and charts. The population health tool is now available to 500 cities with populations of about 66,000 or above to target their efforts to improve the well-being of residents by comparing outcomes with peer cities, and across their own neighborhoods to guide local solutions.

 

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