Big Cities Health Inventory FAQs

Thank you for your interest in the Big Cities Health Inventory Data Platform (BCHI)! Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the data and the platform. If your question is not answered below, please contact Meghan McGinty, Deputy Director of the Big Cities Health Coalition. You can also listen to our recording of a webinar on the data platform to find out more about the data and how the platform works here.

The Platform: Advancing City Health

Q: What information is included on the platform?

A: The platform contains over 17,000 data points on different health indicators for the 28 BCHC member cities.  It has more than 50 health, socio-economic, and demographic indicators across 11 categories. It is a standardized data collection hub that allows for comparability of health indicators across city jurisdictions.

Q: What is the goal or purpose of this data collection and platform?

A: Effective public health practice depends on having reliable and current health information for every community. Data is vital to inform policy making to improve the health of all people and should be used to target and create policies for those in need as well as to measure the successes of these policies. This health data can also help policy makers prioritize how to use scare resources. The platform is a snapshot of urban public health in the U.S.

Q: How can I use this data?

A: This data can be used in a variety of settings – however it may fit your needs! It can be organized by city, by indicator, and sorted by year, race, and sex. It features downloadable and shareable charts and data points. Additionally, the entire dataset is available for download as a csv file. This data can be analyzed to inform public health programs, used for dissertation or thesis research, or for grant applications, among other things.

Q: What is the value to this data? How does it advance a city’s health?

A: Most health data is collected at the national and state level, but this makes it difficult to look at what is happening in cities and communities. With increasing urbanization, it is vital that health departments and policy makers are able to assess the needs and issues that their residents face. The BCHC member cities included in this data portal protect the health and safety of over 50 million people.

This platform is the first of its kind to compile comparable data at the city level. These data show how cities are doing with some of the biggest public health challenges of our time. The city-specific data in the Big Cities Health Inventory (BCHI) can help direct city health policies and priorities and allows for relative comparability across major urban centers in the US. Even if your city is not a member of BCHC, you can use this data to benchmark your city against the largest, most-urban cities in the US.

Q: How is this data inventory platform managed and funded?

A: This data inventory is managed by the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC), which is a project of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). The data inventory is primarily supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The BCHC as an organization is supported by the de Beaumont Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the project funders.

Q: Is this platform part of other projects that collect data on cities?

A: This platform is an initiative of the BCHC. It is not part of any of the other data collection or data modeling efforts being conducted by other organizations or that are going on in different cities.

The Data

Q: Where do the data come from? How do cities share these data?

A: The majority of the data comes from cities themselves. For some of the indicators, for example several of the socio-demographic ones, the data points are pulled from publicly available datasets like the US Census Bureau.  

Q: What methodology is used to collect the data?

A: Visit our methodology page here.

Q: For some cities, why is there a county listed instead of just the city? For example: Fort Worth (Tarrant County) or Las Vegas (Clark County)

A: In some locations, cities do not have their own health department, but are encompassed in their county. Membership in BCHC is extended to the local governmental public health entity that has primary jurisdiction over the city, whether it is a city or county.  Some health departments are only able to provide county level data because of availability or because the city accounts for most of the county population.  In the platform, if county level data is provided rather than city data, this is footnoted in the “Notes for This Indicator” section. 

Q: When is the data updated?

A: The data is updated on a rolling basis. When cities are able to send us new data, we add it to the platform. If the data is from a publicly available source, once the new round or additional years of data are accessible, we add them to the platform as well. Some cities and datasets are only updated every other year, or are released a few years after the data is collected, so you may notice some of the data for certain indicators is older than others.

Q: Do we have more up to date data? Or older data for a longer time span of comparison?

A: The platform contains the most up to date data we have. We do not have data from years previous to 2010. We also do not have more recent data – the most current data we have is posted, and we add new data as it becomes available.

Q: Can I freely use these data?

A: Yes, please use these data! It is open access. We would love to know how you are using the data. Please share with us any reports, publications, visualizations, etc. that you create from the data, as well as an stories about what the data has enabled you to do. Please send stories to mmcginty@naccho.org. You can also tweet your visualizations at @bigcitieshealth.

Q: How should I cite the data/platform?

A: Please reference the platform as follows: Big Cities Health Inventory Data Platform. Big Cities Health Coalition, National Association of County and City Health Officials. http://www.bigcitieshealth.org/city-data accessed [date].

Q: Am I able to get the raw numbers in another form, like an excel spreadsheet? Can I get more specific data?

A: Yes, there are three options for downloading csv files with raw data. Using the toolbar on the left side of the page you can click red text under “Download” to get the complete dataset. Secondly, you can download csv files for each of the member cities with all of the indicators (e.g., downloading the Boston spreadsheet including all indicators for Boston) from the city pages. Thirdly you can download csv files for specific indicators with data for all of the cities (e.g., downloading the indicator spreadsheet for blood lead levels that contains all the city data) from the indicator pages.

Q: Why don’t I see a certain city in the platform? Why is it only U.S. cities?

A: Depending on the city in question, there are a few reasons it may not appear on the platform. This dataset only includes the 28 member cities in the Coalition (See more about our membership criteria here). If you are looking for data on a city that is not a BCHC member (see our member list here), they will not be included in the platform. However, if your city is not a BCHC member, you can still compare your data to BCHC members. We know at least two cities have done so to date.

Alternatively, if you are looking for data on a BCHC member city and do not see it in the platform, that is likely because we do not have data for that year or indicator. Cities track and report their data in different ways, so some indicator data sets may be less complete than others. 

Q: Why are some cities missing data either for certain years or certain indicators? Why do some cities have data that is more broken down by sex or race than others?

A: Each city collects different types of data. The specificity with which cities collect their data also varies. Additionally, populations of these cities are not homogeneous, which means that there are likely to be differences in reporting data on certain races and sexes. There may not be a large enough population of a group in question for a city to accurately capture data for health indicators of that group. That is why some cities may be missing data on certain racial categories or sexes, and why some cities report data for all races or all genders together, rather than separately.

Q: How and why are certain indicators selected? Why are some diseases/health outcomes listed but not others?

A: Indicators encompass nine broad categories of public health importance: Behavioral and Substance Abuse, Cancer, Chronic Disease, Environmental Health, Food Safety, HIV/AIDs, Infectious Disease, Injury and Violence, and Maternal and Child Health. Two additional categories include demographics and life expectancy/overall death rate. These indicators were chosen based on their relationship to the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the US and their role in creating healthier, safer communities. They were also based on priorities outlined by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 Goals, CDC’s Winnable Battles, and interest of BCHC members.