San Antonio lags behind other U.S. cities in terms of access to parks and income inequality in addition to several other factors affecting health outcomes highlighted by a new data tool, the City Health Dashboard, released last week by the Department of Population Health at the New York University School of Medicine.

Users can explore such indicators as park access or housing cost by census tract and correlate those indicators to measured health outcomes for San Antonio. They can also see how San Antonio fares compared to other cities.

The Dashboard indicates that just over 40 percent of San Antonio’s residents have park access, compared to an average of 59 percent across the dashboard’s 500 cities.

Just over 40 percent of San Antonio residents had park access compared to a nationwide average of 59.2 percent. Credit: City Health Dashboard

Additionally, 76 percent of residents in San Antonio have limited access to healthy food, compared to the nationwide average of 62 percent.

“We can’t improve health without addressing inequity in social and environmental factors, like walkability, park access, and food access,” said Amanda Merck, research specialist at Salud America! a Latino-focused health organization that is a project of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at ?UT Health San Antonio.

“Parks are huge for mental and physical health and we have some incredible parks in San Antonio,” she said. “However, daily access is definitely a problem for many families.”

San Antonio’s income inequality score on a scale of -100 to +100 is -14.6, compared to the nationwide average of -7.6. Credit: City Health Dashboard

The City Health Dashboard provides a new depth of specific data on the neighborhood level, allowing the public and researchers to access census data, as well as data from other public and private resources at the city level in one place.

Jessica Athens, director of metrics and analytics for the City Health Dashboard, said the project focuses on city-level health data because city governments frequently contact NYU looking for data that’s more specific to their communities than state- or county-level data. Additionally, there is little U.S. Census Bureau data at the city level that focuses on public health.

“They were saying they’d really love to focus on a health agenda but didn’t have the data to guide their work,” Athens said. “That’s because public health data is often at the county or state level, rather than city boundaries, so [city governments] often don’t have a sense of conditions in the specific communities that they are responsible for.”

Anyone interested in city-level health data may rely heavily on the U.S. Census Bureau data using the American Fact Finder tool. The new dashboard is an alternative that combines census data along with other public and private resources to offer 36 metrics for 500 of the nation’s largest cities from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other private sources like Walk Score.

“The City Health Dashboard is a valuable tool to illustrate inequity, because it displays many indicators by census tract,” Merck said.

The dashboard data reveals other significant findings about San Antonio.

The percentage of adults with diabetes rises with the percentage of uninsured individuals, as shown in the scatter plot from the dashboard below, where each point represents a census tract in San Antonio.

Diabetes among adults aged 18 years or older compared the percentage of uninsured adults aged 18-64 for census tracts in San Antonio. Credit: City Health Dashboard

Additionally, the percentage of San Antonio adults reporting frequent mental distress increases with the percentage of households spending more than 30 percent of family income on housing costs.

The percentage of adults reporting poor mental health compared to the percentage of households in which more than 30 percent of income is spent on housing. Credit: City Health Dashboard

Regional officials say tools like the City Health Dashboard can help local government agencies and other organizations paint a more accurate picture of health outcomes and identify correlations in the data that may lead to important policy changes.

Brittany Fitz, director of data and research for Prosper Waco, an organization that participated in the City Health Dashboard’s pilot program, said the tool filled a gap in the data she needed to do her job as a researcher.

“… Recent, city-level data is critical to how our community makes decisions,” Fitz said. “Prior to our involvement with the project, the data was either not available for our area or outdated.”

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Emily Royall

Emily Royall is the Rivard Report's former data director.