Okay, we thought big data folks had really turned it up to 11 with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s comprehensive U.S. Health Map, which categorizes each and every U.S. death by each and every U.S. county. The map can tell you which areas of the country have the lowest life expectancy (parts of Appalachia and the South don’t look good); which suffer the highest rates of binge drinking (Wisconsin, Montana, North Dakota) and suicide (the Kusilvak Census Area in Alaska; South Dakota Native American reservations); and lots of other information that will satisfy even the most voracious consumer of death and morbidity data.
But when it comes to urban areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may have gone the IHME’s tool one better — turned it up to 12, if you will — with its recently introduced health data map, part of its 500 Cities project.
“The project identifies, analyzes, and reports on 27 chronic disease measures focusing on conditions, behaviors, and risk factors that have a substantial effect on people’s health,” according to the CDC, which launched the map in partnership with the CDC Foundation and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.
But wait, there’s more — the map doesn’t just drill down to the city level; it homes in on each census tract, which is, basically, your neighborhood.
We clicked ourselves down to the city level for San Francisco, where KQED is based, then all the way into different patches of blocks, checking out health outcomes like asthma, diabetes and cancer. The prevention data displays rates for dental visits, annual checkups and lack of health insurance, among other measures, and the stats for “unhealthy behaviors” include the numbers on smoking, obesity and lack of sleep. (View the definitions of each measure here.)
Some of these are self-reported, we’re relieved to find out. (Still, what’s next — unhealthy behaviors broken out by each room in your apartment?)
The data, from as recently as 2014, comes from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (which is collected through telephone surveys, despite its high-tech and ominous-sounding name), U.S. Census Bureau population data, and the bureau’s American Community Survey.
Keep in mind these numbers represent estimates, derived from “small area estimation techniques.” These statistical methods use data from big surveys pertaining to larger geographical areas, then apply that data to smaller areas, said James Holt, the CDC’s team leader for analytic methods in the Division of Population Health.
All well and good. But we did notice one thing: The residents in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park do a relatively heavy amount of binge drinking, according to the map. What, do the the squirrels have an alcohol problem?
“The area that contains Golden Gate Park is census tract 060759803,” wrote a CDC spokesperson, in response to a question that didn’t mention squirrels. “According to the 2010 US Census, this census tract had a 2010 resident population of 171. We did suppress estimates for census tracts that had fewer than 50 residents, to avoid the issue of interpretation, but Golden Gate Park is in a tract that exceeds that threshold.”
The CDC anticipates this trove of data will be used by local health officials, to help them “target health interventions to areas within their cities at highest need,” Holt said.
Enjoy, data nerds, enjoy.