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Tracking health metrics, district by district

Jan 25, 2023
Screenshot of the home page of the Congressional District Health Dashboard's website.

Screenshot courtesy NYU/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Want to know how your congressional district stacks up when it comes to dental care or the percentage of constituents with diabetes for the member you’re lobbying next week?

Why it matters: The dashboard can help lawmakers craft policies that target their constituents’ actual needs.

  • “It's really been difficult for policymakers to get their hands on rigorous and nonpartisan data that show the challenges that their constituents face that [are] specific to their congressional district,” said Marc Gourevitch, chair of the department of population health at NYU Langone Health and the dashboard’s principal architect.
  • The team behind the dashboard previously created a tool to track health metrics across more than 900 cities in the United States.

Peek at the data: Take, for example, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s district, the California 20th.

  • The district has worse-than-average rates of cardiovascular disease deaths but is around the national average for obesity.
  • Meanwhile, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries’ district rates worse than average on the lead exposure risk index, and clocks in above average when it comes to adults who had a routine medical check-up in the last year (80%!).

How it works: To make the dashboard, researchers took large national datasets from sources like the CDC and the U.S. Census, and broke the information down by location.

  • They then shaped the units back into the highly specific boundaries of congressional districts.

The dashboard tracks metrics over five areas: health outcomes, social and economic factors, health behavior, physical environment and clinical care.

  • Users can look at a list of their district’s metrics, or check out maps that compare rates to national averages. For certain measures, users can compare rates among different demographics within a district.
  • Gourevitch said his team plans to update the dashboard as new data becomes available.

Yes, but: The tool doesn’t rank districts in order of healthiness. Gourevitch said the team decided there wouldn't be much value in doing that.

  • “We want folks to use these data in ways that are empowering,” added Giridhar Mallya, senior policy officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

What we’re watching: How will lawmakers, lobbyists and other stakeholders use this tool when crafting policy?

  • "In and of itself, is it going to change the outcome [of policy debates]? Probably not," Mallya said. "But I think when you can pull together data and stories and values, then that helps really enrich the policy process."
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