CDC releases ‘groundbreaking’ neighborhood health maps

New health maps for Louisville show that residents in the city’s downtown and western neighborhoods drink and smoke more than their neighbors in other parts of the city, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, residents in the eastern parts of the city are more likely to binge drink.

The CDC, for the first time, is presenting neighborhood-based health data for 500 of the nation’s largest cities. The project’s co-principal investigator told Insider that he hopes the data would better equip government agencies to battle the most pressing health challenges in the right neighborhoods.

A spokesman for the city of Louisville said that the maps should prove helpful in guiding the city’s efforts to improve public health and to reinforce continuing public health improvement efforts.

The CDC’s analysis covers 27 measures, ranging from the prevalence of binge drinking to mental, physical and oral health.

For most of the measures, Louisville residents overall fared better than the state average — but worse than the national average. For example, nearly 32 percent of Kentucky adults suffer from arthritis, a slightly higher share than the nearly 31 percent in Louisville, but both shares were significantly higher than the national average of 23.5 percent.

And about 19 percent of Louisville adults age 65 and up had lost all their teeth, much higher than the national average of 15.4 percent, but significantly lower than the state average, as nearly 1 out of every four Kentucky adults age 65 and up have lost all of their teeth.

Kentuckians’ health generally compares unfavorably to national averages, in part because of the high prevalence of smoking and obesity.

The Louisville data show some “pronounced” differences among certain neighborhoods and reinforces the correlation between health and socioeconomic status, said James Holt, a CDC geographer and team leader for analytic methods and the project’s co-principal investigator.

Significantly greater-than-average shares of residents in downtown and West Louisville smoke, are obese and get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. The maps also show that residents in those neighborhoods suffer more often from diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and cancer than residents in other parts of the city.

For example:

  • In almost all neighborhoods west of Interstate 65, at least 12.8 percent of residents suffer from asthma. In neighborhoods east of I-65, almost no neighborhood has rates above 12.8 percent.
  • In almost all neighborhoods west of I-65, at least 44 percent of residents have high blood pressure. East of I-65, almost no neighborhoods had rates that high.
  • In most neighborhoods west of I-65 a third to one-half of adults under 65 had lost all their teeth. East of I-65, the rates in most neighborhoods were below 15 percent.




Holt said that while government officials had significant amounts of health data previously, they lacked geographic specificity, which often made it difficult to know where and how to begin tackling health challenges.

Now, Holt said, leaders in 500 metros can download the new data, conduct their own analyses and prioritize health interventions, adjusting them neighborhood by neighborhood to target the health problems and their underlying causes. The maps could be “groundbreaking” for public health practices, he said.

Dave Langdon, a spokesman for the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, told Insider that the kind of data the CDC is providing is “really valuable” and something the city had collected and analyzed since 2011.

For some health behaviors, such as smoking rates, the CDC data may just reinforce that the city is already taking the right approach by offering smoking cessation classes in neighborhoods with high smoking rates, Langdon said.

Other data could drive public policy, he said. For example, some poor health outcomes and behaviors are linked to the proximity of groceries and access to fresh produce.  As some stores leave neighborhoods — a Kroger at 924 South Second Street in Old Louisville closed this year — the city could provide incentives to encourage new grocery operators to come into those neighborhoods, Langdon said.

And, he said, some of the CDC’s findings may even abate current assumptions. For example, binge drinking is generally associated with the downtown, western and southwestern parts of the city, but the CDC maps show that binge drinking occurs more often in the eastern parts of Louisville.

So, when the city or local organizations plan alcohol abuse intervention programs, perhaps they should focus more on the East End, he said.

The CDC project was financed in part through an $850,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation last year recognized Louisville for its commitment to health equity with the Culture of Health Prize.