Online Tool Compares, Contrasts Health Issues in NJ’s Nine Largest Cities

Colleen O'Dea | May 15, 2018 | Health Care
City Health Dashboard also juxtaposes Garden State data with 500 biggest communities across United States

Residents in seven of New Jersey’s nine largest cities are less healthy than those living in the nation’s largest cities, with those in Newark and Camden faring the worst, a new online tool shows.

City Health Dashboard, created by the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine, provides data on 36 measures related to health for the 500 largest cities in the United States, those with populations of at least 66,000. Launched today, its goal is to provide useful data that can inform local and health officials’ decisions, enabling them to work to address the greatest needs facing cities, neighborhoods, and racial and ethnic populations.

The dashboard includes health measures like obesity and opioid-overdose deaths, as well as housing affordability and income inequality and other social determinants that can influence health. It pulls together data from multiple sources into a single site where city leaders and residents can see gaps in health and opportunity, and gives users the ability to view many of its measures by neighborhoods within a community and according to race and gender. The dashboard further enables users to compare cities and provides resources for best practices and policies for addressing health challenges.

An examination of data for the nine New Jersey cities included — Camden, Clifton, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, Passaic, Paterson, Trenton, and Union City — revealed five measures on which all fared worse on average than residents of the 500 largest cities:

  • Residents are less physically active.
  • Third graders fared worse on proficiency tests.
  • People have greater housing-cost burdens.
  • Children, especially, face a greater risk of exposure to lead.
  • More babies are born at low birth weight.
  • On the positive side, adults in all the New Jersey cities do less binge drinking and have greater access to healthy food in a supermarket than their counterparts in other cities across the country.

    The city profiles showed that only Clifton and Jersey City fared better than the national average in a majority of measures. Newark and Camden face the greatest challenges.

    Newark residents had worse-than-average outcomes in all 11 health measures — more than a third of residents are obese, compared with 29 percent average for all the cities listed, and the number of premature deaths is 40 percent higher than the average. People are also more likely to lack health insurance — 37 percent in Newark, compared with 26 percent across all cities. And the violent crime rate of 941 per 100,000 people was nearly double the average.

    In Camden’s case, residents have a much higher incidence of diabetes and physical and mental distress than average. The city’s children also face the highest risk of danger from exposure to elevated levels of lead, due to the age of housing stock and poverty levels, measured by the dashboard.

    Still, there are some positive indicators. Newark has a lower-than-average rate of absenteeism from school and healthy foods are more available to residents, compared with the nation’s 500 largest cities. Camden has fewer deaths from opioid overdoses and fewer teens having babies.

    “With the City Health Dashboard, cities across the country can leverage the power of data to improve people’s lives and strengthen communities,” said Dr. Marc Gourevitch, chair of the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine and the program’s principal architect. “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.”

    Sample Measures from City Health Dashboard
    City Physical inactivity % Children in poverty % Living more than 1/2 mile from supermarket % Obesity % Saw a dentist within last year %
    Camden 43.2 50.1 32.8 39.8 45.0
    Clifton 29.6 13.4 40.9 27.5 68.9
    Elizabeth 35.9 27.1 15.0 32.8 53.1
    Jersey City 30.7 28.9 3.1 23.6 60.4
    Newark 37.1 41.1 9.6 37.7 49.5
    Passaic 41.4 42.0 6.9 36.5 48.0
    Paterson 41.0 40.2 14.3 38.5 49.3
    Trenton 38.4 39.5 40.9 36.9 47.4
    Union City 39.2 37.5 0.0 30.0 51.1
    500 Cities average 25.5 23.6 61.9 28.8 62.0

    Source: City Health Dashboard

    City-to-city comparisons

    The creators of the dashboard found that health behaviors and conditions can vary widely among 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. Economic opportunities for children differ even more dramatically. Just 3 percent of children live in poverty in the wealthiest cities, while more than 60 percent of children are considered poor in the most distressed cities. Research shows that poverty and other economic stressors pose risks to community health.

    As a rule, the dashboard shows that cities in the western United States have better health, including lower rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, compared with cities in other regions and the nation as a whole.

    “We all have a role to play in improving wellbeing in our communities and ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities to be healthy, no matter where they live,” said Abbey Cofsky, a managing director of programs at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is providing financial and other support for the dashboard. “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.” (The Robert Wood Johnson is a funder of NJ Spotlight.)

    Much of the data used is similar to that in an older project also supported by RWJF, County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, which presents information on a larger geographic scale, by county.

    The City Health Dashboard website displays measures and drivers of health through interactive maps, tables, and charts. The data presented on the dashboard is drawn from federal, state, and other trusted datasets, including the U.S. Census Bureau, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Environmental Protection Agency.

    Another source of health data is the CDC’s own 500 Cities Project, which has 28 measures, all health-specific.