A Better Understanding of Memphis Health with Data from the 500 Cities Project

By Ryan Hanson

The 500 Cities project is a collaboration between the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Foundation. The goal of this partnership is to provide communities and decision makers with data and tools to better identify health disparities and create targeted interventions. Typically, data relating to public health are only collected at the state and county levels. The 500 Cities project provides statistics on a select number of chronic disease measures for 500 U.S. cities at the city and Census tract level.  Currently preliminary data is available on the CDC’s Chronic Data Portal and through a series of interactive applications and map books on the project’s website. The project is scheduled to be officially launched in the Summer of 2017 with more interactive web applications and GIS capabilities.

The data available through the project provide 27 health measures for adults 18 years and older relating to 3 categories unhealthy behaviors, health outcomes, and measures of preventions. The small area estimates are derived from the Behavioral Risk Factor and Surveillance Survey, which is a previously existing annual landline telephone survey, and socioeconomic data from the Census.

Six cities in Tennessee are included in the project Chattanooga, Clarksville, Knoxville, Memphis, Murfreesboro, and Nashville.  Below are a couple of examples of what the preliminary data look like from the map book for Memphis.   Figure 1 shows the percentage of the Memphis population with obesity by tract.  Higher rates are seen in the northern and southern portion of the city while the Poplar Corridor has lower percentages. This illustrates the connection between obesity and socioeconomics.  A similar pattern is seen in Figure 2, which shows the percentage of the population lacking health insurance by tract.

More data and information about the 500 Cities project can be found at the project’s website.


Figure 1. Percentage of population with obesity in Memphis by Census tract, 2014.


Figure 2. Percentage of population lacking health insurance in Memphis by Census tract, 2014.