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BIG BIG Data,

Insights

Online community profiles help towns and cities in Massachusetts figure out if they’re in the pink of health — or not. D o you know your community’s walk score? The rate of cancer, diabetes and smoking among seniors in your town? Or how your town compares to neighboring communities in measures of healthy aging like availability of flu shots and exercise opportunities? Five years ago, an idea was born at the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Forum and nurtured by healthy-aging advocates throughout the state to give local policymakers, service providers and citizens in the Commonwealth access to online data on demographic, health and social indicators for their own local communities. The Tufts Health Plan Foundation commissioned the project, a healthy-aging data report, and the Gerontology Institute in the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston conducted the research. The project’s principal investigator, Elizabeth Dugan, is an associate professor of gerontology at UMass Boston. As part of a statewide healthy-aging initiative, the Healthy Aging Data Report includes 367 community profiles — one for each town and city in the state and 16 Boston neighborhoods — listing more than 100 indicators of both self-reported behaviors and treatment data for individuals with

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chronic conditions like stroke, COPD, cancer and diabetes, as well as indicators of wellness, exercise rates, preventive screenings, vaccinations and diet. The community profiles also layer data about the environment, such as walk scores, crime rates and economic security indexes. The thinking behind the Healthy Aging Data Report is simple but effective: Armed with local data, Massachusetts health professionals, policymakers and activists are better able to implement healthy-aging initiatives at the community level. “I love data and I love for people to use data,” says Ruth Palombo, PhD’03, senior health policy officer at the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, which provides ongoing support for this effort. “But data alone aren’t enough,” adds Palombo. “When people come together to understand the stories behind the data, magical things happen.” “The community-profiles data are an invaluable tool in determining local long-term program and service needs,” explains Ann Hartstein, MMHS’83, secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. “The community profiles offer a comprehensive, objective picture of demographics and trends, which is essential in addressing the rapidly increasing senior population.” The profiles were compiled with existing data from four

Heller Magazine, Fall 2014  

A Magazine for the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

Heller Magazine, Fall 2014  

A Magazine for the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University