BPHC logoA new report produced by the Boston Public Health Commission and released today by Mayor Thomas M. Menino revealed that the adolescent birth rate among Boston’s female residents is declining along with the overall percentage of preterm births. The infant mortality rate for black infants has also declined in recent years, welcome news for the city’s public health officials who have made it a priority to reduce the disparity in mortality rates that exists between infants of color and white infants.

These are two of the highlights found in the nearly 300 page Health of Boston 2012-2013: A Neighborhood Focus, which details the latest trends in the health of city residents using approximately 30 indicators for the city overall and for individual neighborhoods.  The report presents data for indicators related to select birth outcomes, health-related behaviors, disease incidence, hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and causes of death.  This year’s Health of Boston, the latest edition of the report that has been commissioned annually since 1996, represents the most comprehensive presentation of Boston neighborhood-level data to date.

“As we work to build a healthier city for all our residents, we need to base our policies and practices on the best data available, and that’s exactly what the Health of Boston report offers,” Mayor Menino said.  “The positive trends we’re seeing on issues such as infant mortality, heart disease, and smoking are encouraging, but the challenges this report brings to light, especially around obesity and physical activity, are even more informative as we set our priorities for the future.”

An analysis of select health indicators over time revealed progress or sustained improvement for several key public health priorities.  For example:

  • The adolescent birth rate for Boston female residents ages 15-17 decreased 9% from 2005 to 2010, and the overall percentage of preterm births among all Boston resident births decreased from 11% in 2005 to 9% in 2010, based on preliminary data.
  • The 5-year rolling average infant death rate for black infants declined 11% from the period 2001-2005 to 2006-2010, compared to a decline of 8% for Boston overall.
  • Boston’s stroke-related death rate decreased 15% from 2005 to 2010.
  • From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of Boston public high school students who reported smoking cigarettes decreased.  Similarly, the percentage of Boston adult residents who reported smoking cigarettes decreased from 2001 to 2010.
  • From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of Boston public high school students who reported persistent sadness (feeling sad, blue, or depressed every day for two weeks straight during the past year) decreased.

Similar to Boston overall, neighborhood health indicators also demonstrated progress in key areas.  According to preliminary data for 2010, from 2005 to 2010, Mattapan and Roxbury experienced the greatest decreases in adolescent birth rates for females ages 15-17, declining 55% and 40%, respectively.  Heart disease hospitalization and death rates decreased for the majority of Boston neighborhoods, and almost every neighborhood experienced a decrease in asthma emergency department visits for children under the age of five.

Some of the challenges brought to light in the report include:

  • Compared to Boston’s white residents, black and Latino residents continue to suffer disproportionately from poorer health outcomes.  These inequities are evident in the rate of births among adolescent females, infant birth weights, infant death rates, heart disease hospitalizations, diabetes hospitalizations, homicide, and adult obesity.
  • From 2001 to 2010, the percentage of obese adult Boston residents (individuals with a body mass index of 30 or more) increased.
  • From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of public high school students engaging in regular physical activity during a given week remained static.  The same was true for the percentage of high school students that reported binge drinking.

The release of this year’s report is accompanied by interactive online maps that display neighborhood-level data for a variety of health and socioeconomic indicators and by a new companion publication called Place Matters.  Supported by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Place Matters is a newspaper-style publication that focuses on how place and racism influence health outcomes.  It offers examples of solutions for advancing health equity and racial justice locally.  Boston is one of 24 communities around the country participating in the Joint Center’s national initiative, also called Place Matters, which supports community-based efforts to address social, economic, and environmental conditions that shape health.

“This report has always been an important tool for developing public health policies and for determining how we allocate resources,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of BPHC.  “We hope that this year’s revised format and the new tools that come with it empower our residents to be more involved in the conversation about the health of our city.”

The complete Health of Boston report and Place Matters can be found at www.bphc.org.