About 500 Cities

The purpose of the 500 Cities project is to provide city- and census tract-level small area estimates for chronic disease risk factors, health outcomes, and clinical preventive service use for the largest 500 cities in the United States. The goal is to provide local partners with neighborhood level data for better health. The small area estimates are built on a model that considers population characteristics, genetics and geography, a combination that acknowledges that its not just who you are, or what you do, but that where you live, place, matters for health. These small area estimates allow cities and local health departments to better understand the burden and geographic distribution of health-related variables in their jurisdictions, and help them plan public health interventions. 

On December 7th, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation partnered with The Urban Institute to convene local stakeholders from various sectors including government, urban planning, philanthropy, environment, education, social services and health from each of the 500 cities in Dallas, TX to formally introduce the data and explore how communities might use it to create a culture of health. The day featured keynote addresses from field experts, panels of practitioners who shared their experiences using data at the local level, and breakout round table discussions for participants working in similar sectors to share practices and address challenges.

Keynotes included:

  • Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Associate Dean of Public Health Practice and Training at Johns Hopkins, introduced the data and talked about how data alone is not enough to move the dial on health equity, rather data can change the game when it is used to engage communities, build excitement and power, and foster strategic, cross-sector partnerships to take action around the issues that matter most to people.
  • Dr. James Holt of the Centers for Disease Control, an expert in health geographic and the lead of the 500 Cities research team, discussed the small area estimates methodology and gave participants an inside look at how to access, navigate and download data and maps for their local communities.
  • Dr. Jewel Mullen, a Massachusetts native and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, talked about the importance of working locally across sectors to use data as a tool to “screen for” community conditions that produce poor health, and creatively, and strategically intervene to “treat” them.

This project has paramount implications for the power of the Healthy Neighborhoods Research Study.  The focus of the study is to understand how investing in new development projects in urban neighborhoods impacts the lives and health of people living less than 1 mile away. To understand what this means, we need data that allows us to learn about communities as people experience them – block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. The 500 Cities Project marks the first time that health behavior and outcome data has been made publically available as such a local level for communities across the US.  Before now, the zip code level is the smallest geography at which we have been able to see this data for communities across the state.  In urban communities, neighborhoods are made up of 1-3 zip codes, but further you move away from Boston, a single zip code can include several neighbors or event an entire town.

Data for seven of the nine communities included in the Healthy Neighborhoods Study is available for the 500 cities project, including: the city of Boston, Brockton, Lynn, New Bedford and Fall River. We will use this data to inform our research and to work with our data and community partner to use the 500 cities methodology to produce estimates for Chelsea and Everett.


500 Cities Data project here: https://www.cdc.gov/500cities/

Download data and maps for Massachusetts cities here: https://www.cdc.gov/500cities/map-books.htm#ui-id-43

View the 500 cities webinar here: https://cc.readytalk.com/cc/playback/Playback.do?id=62n3ay