When it comes to quality of life and lifespan, the argument gaining a lot of traction these days is that a person’s zip code matters more than their genetic code. This argument is bolstered by a growing body of research showing that Americans’ home address is a reliable predictor of their health and well-being. To many, this may seem intuitive — walkable neighborhoods, stable housing, good schools, active parks, and easy access to fresh food all make it a little easier to make the kinds of small daily decisions that collectively lead to better health. The implications, however, are complex. It means that our health is affected by both the social and physical aspects of the communities where we live, and in turn, policy that impacts our neighborhood also impacts our health.
Current health inequities, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “systematic differences in the health status of different population groups,” play out across communities, often times following patterns laid down by past and ongoing policies which segregate people along the lines of class, race, ethnicity, and other factors. Attempts to decrease health inequity, therefore, benefit from policies and planning that 1) acknowledge the social, economic, and spatial disparities that underpin health differences and 2) focus interventions at the neighborhood level based on these disparities to enhance communities’ quality of life and increase their access to care.
A longtime barrier to the planning and implementation of neighborhood-level health interventions has been access to reliable data at the appropriate scale. Most health data is available at the county-level, collected by county health departments and shared by the state department of health. In Georgia, the OASIS portal is the primary source of such data. In an attempt to overcome this barrier, the CDC, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the CDC Foundation, in collaboration with one another, created the 500 Cities project. Updated in 2017, the project makes available model-based “city- and census tract-level estimates for chronic disease risk factors, health outcomes, and clinical preventive service use for the largest 500 cities in the United States.”
To begin exploring the 500 Cities data, simply select a state from the widget below: