Government Health & Environment

City Report: Boston Is Healthier

    Mayor Menino Releases 2010 Health of Boston Report
  Mortality rates continue to decline, fewer drug and alcohol deaths

Fewer Boston residents are dying of cancer, heart disease, injuries, and stroke, four of the five leading causes of death in the city, and Asian residents in Boston have the highest average life expectancy of any racial or ethnic group, according to the new Health of Boston report released today by Mayor Menino.

The 399-page report prepared by the Boston Public Health Commission contained plenty of good news about the health of Boston residents: Fewer substance abuse deaths, high rates of cancer screening, fewer teen pregnancies, fewer adults smokers and salmonella cases, and the near- disappearance of children in Boston with elevated lead levels.

But serious challenges remain. The report found that Boston’s black and Latino residents continue to experience higher levels of chronic disease, mortality, and poorer health outcomes compared to white residents. In 2008, the asthma hospitalization rate for black and Latino children was more than three times the rate for Asian children and four times the rate for white children.  That same year, the diabetes hospitalization rate for black and Latino residents was about four times the rate for Asians and whites.  For Boston’s black residents the health inequities begin early in life and persist throughout the individual’s lifespan: In 2008, the black infant mortality rate was more than four times the white infant mortality rate, and black residents had the shortest average life expectancy.

Among the most dramatic improvements since last year’s report was in the area of substance abuse, where deaths from drugs and alcohol combined decreased 18 percent, from 165 deaths in 2007 to 135 deaths in 2008.  From 2007 to 2008, the Latino substance abuse mortality rate decreased 46 percent, which public health officials attributed to intensive treatment programs and grassroots efforts undertaken by the Public Health Commission’s substance abuse bureau. In 2008, the Commission opened the first new city-operated substance abuse treatment program for women in Boston in a decade, serving primarily Latino and black women. It also has provided millions of dollars in new funding to neighborhood No-Drug Coalitions, particularly in areas with large Latino populations, such as Jamaica Plain/ Roxbury.

Similarly, the rate of new gonorrhea cases among Boston residents decreased 19 percent from 2007 to 2008, falling to its lowest level in ten years of reported data. The reported chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C rates decreased 11 percent and 17 percent, respectively, from 2007 to 2008.

“The Health of Boston report is always a sobering and yet hopeful reminder that while we have made great progress, there is still room for improvement,’’ said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “We will use the report as we always do – to help us refocus on those areas of public health that need the most attention.

This year’s report also examined the personal health behaviors of Boston public high school students – from their breakfast-eating habits to how much exercise they get. Among the findings from surveys conducted in 2009:

–          16 percent of students reported not eating breakfast, and only 18 percent reported consuming the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables
–           28 percent reported consuming one or more sodas per day
–           Only 27 percent reported engaging in regular physical activity
–           Approximately 45 percent reported watching three or more hours of television per day and 33 percent reported playing video and computer games for more than three hours
“We know that personal health behaviors have a significant impact on one’s overall health,’’ said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. `We have to create opportunities and policies that promote good habits, whether that’s offering healthy food at schools, ensuring access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables for all families, or creating safe places for young people and their families to get physical activity.’’

Asked for the first time about cyber-bullying for the Health of Boston report, about 1 in 10 Boston public high school students reported being bullied electronically during the past year.

Among the report’s other findings:
Cancer remained Boston’s leading cause of death in 2008, followed by heart disease, injuries, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. From 2006 to 2008, the rates of death from all of these causes decreased, except for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The average life expectancy for Boston residents was 78.1 years. Asians had the highest average life expectancy at 83.7 years. The estimated average life expectancy was similar among white (79 years) and Latino residents (80.6 years). The life expectancy for black residents (73.5 years) was more than five years below that for Latino and white residents. The average life expectancy for females (81.1 years) was more than six years higher than for males (74.8 years).
In 2008, 72 percent of Boston women over age 40 reported having a mammogram in the past year. A higher percentage of black women (80 percent) 40 and older reported having a mammogram compared to white women (69 percent) 40 and older. Although black women have a higher reported percentage of mammograms, black women have a higher breast cancer mortality rate.
In 2008, 15 percent of adults in Boston said they currently smoke cigarettes, compared to 24 percent in 2001, the year before Boston’s workplace smoking ban was approved.
Boston’s adolescent birth rate decreased 14 percent from 2007 to 2008, while self-reported maternal smoking during pregnancy declined by 67 percent between 1995 and 2008.
In 2009, among Boston children ages six and under, the percentage of those screened who were positive for an elevated blood lead level remained extremely low (1 percent), compared to the levels experienced 10 to 15 years ago ( 6 percent to 14 percent).
From 2007 to 2008, the syphilis rate increased 35 percent. The rate of new Chlamydia cases in 2008 was 5 percent higher than in 2007, and 74 percent higher than in 1999.
Dr. Ferrer said the Health of Boston report will be shared with residents in a series of community forums, beginning in the fall. She also said the Commission would use the data to align resources where they are most needed.

The full report can be found at