NYU launches online tool to understand communities' health needs
New York University School of Medicine researchers on Tuesday launched an online resource that city governments across the country can use to identify and help set policies for improving their communities' health needs.
The City Health Dashboard will let users access demographic data from 500 of the largest U.S. cities and reports on 36 health measures such as air quality, housing, walkability, smoking and obesity, as well as level of access to clinical-care services.
Researchers at NYU School of Medicine's population health department spent two years developing the tool after noticing that mayors across the country claimed a lack of health data on their residents prevented them from making health a higher priority in their agendas, according to Dr. Marc Gourevitch, department chair and the program's principal architect.
"If you're a small or medium-sized city, you can't just go and look up data on the health status or the drivers of health in your city," Gourevitch said. "We tried to step up to that challenge."
The result is a first-of-its-kind effort to provide city- and neighborhood-level data from multiple national sources to create a single resource site to help city leaders and residents take action on health and opportunity gaps, Gourevitch said. The dashboard's data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as state and county health departments.
The data provides a comprehensive view of national health trends, including a state-by-state comparison of smoking rates. While national figures show that nearly 16% of adults smoked in 2016, the rate varies from 9% in Utah to as high as 25% in West Virginia, according to data from the CDC.
But the dashboard reveals a more in-depth view of how smoking rates vary. While Chicago's smoking rate is 18%, the tool breaks down smoking rates by ZIP code and can show areas in the city where the rate is above 30%. City leaders can use that information to direct resources to communities most in need.
Users of the dashboard can compare data between different cities or across different metrics, such as how the rate of physical inactivity in Flint, Mich., relates to the rate at which women ages 21 to 64 get pap smear screening. According to the data, as the share of adults with no time for physical activity increases, the screening rate decreases.
"Ultimately what you want to get out of data is insight," Gourevitch said. "We felt it was important to be able to allow people to look at the association of the different measures that we were presenting."
Researchers received a $3.4 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to keep the site open to all users. The researchers may also contract with city governments to provide technical assistance and enhancements for their dashboard, such as adding metrics or looking at data based on school districts.
"A lot of the broad approaches to addressing some of these health challenges really require local specificity and local tailoring," Gourevitch said.
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