SITE VISIT: Our Town

Science  18 Aug 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5482, pp. 1103b
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5482.1103b

Forget intercity rivalries based on sports teams or chili cook-offs—the real measure of a town's mettle is its health. How does yours compete? To find out, consult the Community Health Status Indicators Project.

The Health Resources and Services Administration compiled this handy, searchable public health database with profiles of all 3082 U.S. counties. The crunched numbers come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Bureau of the Census, and a dozen other federal agencies. It may sound dry, but it's an epidemiological treasure trove containing indicators such as infant death rates, life expectancy, causes of death, infectious disease cases, types of air pollution, and use of mental and physical health services.

Counties are grouped with their “peers,” defined according to population, population density, percent of people living in poverty, and age distributions. For example, Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana, turns out to be demographically similar to the District of Columbia; San Francisco County, California; and Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), Florida. Each in-depth report identifies (with an approving apple symbol) measures in which a county compares favorably with its peers; a magnifying glass points out where a county needs work. The site suggests that counties consult high-performance peers for recommendations about successful public health programs.

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