Chronic diseases are the leading cause of illness and death in Massachusetts and across the United States. Many chronic diseases are believed to result from the interaction of genetics and environmental factors - including infectious agents, environmental contaminants, diet, and lifestyle choices. However, the degree to which these factors interact and contribute to the development of chronic diseases is not known.
In 2000, the Pew Environmental Health Commission identified, among other issues, that there is a lack of basic information available to link environmental hazards and chronic diseases. In response, the CDC funded state health departments to begin to address this gap by building the Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) Network for integrating health and environmental datasets. This information may be used for quantifying the magnitude of a problem, detecting unusual trends and occurrences, identifying populations at risk, and facilitating environmental public health research.
One of the basic building blocks of the EPHT network is health outcome data classified by location (e.g., state, county, or census tract). Massachusetts has been on the forefront in assembling disease registries and surveillance systems to track the health status of residents across the state. These multi-year statewide surveillance systems include data on childhood lead poisoning, newly diagnosed cases of cancer, birth defects, reproductive outcomes, pediatric asthma and diabetes in schoolchildren, and hospitalization data for asthma, heart attack, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heat stress. The MDPH/BEH has geocoded health data so that rates and/or measures of diseases in each community can be compared to the overall statewide experience. This information has been useful as a first step in responding to concerns by residents, local health departments, the medical community, and government and legislative officials concerning the disease burden in Massachusetts communities.
Currently, this website provides the following information:
|Health Outcome||Type of Statistic Available||Geographic Area For Which the Data are Available|
||Crude and age-adjusted hospitalization rates||By community, county, EOHHS region*, EP Regional Coalitions* and, statewide|
||Prevalence and counts||By school, community, county, and statewide|
|Birth Defects||Prevalence and counts||By county and statewide|
||Counts and Standardized Incidence Ratio (SIR)||By census tract, community, county, EOHHS regions*, and EP Regional Coalitions*|
||Counts and direct age-adjusted rates||By county and statewide|
|Carbon Monoxide Poisoning||Crude and age-adjusted hospitalization rates||By community, county, EOHHS region*, EP Regional Coalitions* and, statewide|
|Childhood Blood Lead Information (year of testing and birth cohort)||Number and percent of children screened and blood lead level||By census tract, community, county, EOHHS region*, EP Regional Coalitions* and, statewide|
|Heart Attack||Crude and age-adjusted hospitalization rates||By community, county, EOHHS region*, EP Regional Coalitions* and, statewide|
|Heat Stress||Crude and age-adjusted hospitalization rates||By community, county, EOHHS region*, EP Regional Coalitions* and, statewide|
|Pediatric Diabetes||Prevalence and counts||By county and statewide|
||Annual total fertility rate||By county, and statewide|
||Annual percentage||By county, and statewide|
||Annual mortality rate||By county, and statewide|
||Annual percentage||By county, and statewide|
||Annual sex ratio at birth||By county, and statewide|
There are certain limitations that need to be considered when interpreting the health data. These limitations are included on the webpages and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for each health outcome. In general, the following limitations are essential to keep in mind:
- The health data presented are intended to provide basic information on the status of selected health indicators and not to answer questions about the cause of the disease. Some information is provided to help the user to determine if the occurrence of disease in a community or in another geographical level (e.g., census tract) is unusual or as would be expected.
- A variety of information about environmental and non-environmental factors that may contribute to chronic diseases, such as an individual's access to medical care and diet, are not available, and therefore, cannot be accounted for in the statistics provided on this website. For example, the leading causes of heart attack are related to genetics, age, lifestyle (e.g., obesity, tobacco use, high cholesterol, high blood pressure), and environmental factors such as exposure to air pollution (e.g., fine particles). Similarly, asthma is a multifactorial lung disease that is often associated with familial, allergenic, socioeconomic, psychological, and environmental factors including exposure to air pollution.
- Health impacts are related to the types of pollutants a person is exposed to, the degree of exposure, the toxicity of the pollutant, and the individual's health status particularly with respect to pre-existing diseases.
- The numbers and rates of disease can vary over time and place substantially. Therefore, comparing the numbers and rates provided, except where specific calculations are provided, may be misleading without using advanced statistical methods. Most importantly, any differences observed in the numbers or rates between communities, years etc. may not necessarily indicate meaningful differences without the use of statistical test methods. Because of factors, such as small numbers or the natural variability in disease rates, the differences may simply be due to chance statistical fluctuations.
It is important to note that MDPH has safeguards in place to protect private health information. Maintaining the privacy of individuals is essential to MDPH's mission to promote public health and welfare. Data may only be presented to the public if confidentiality guidelines are followed through the grouping of data (i.e., data aggregation) and/or suppression due to a low number of cases in order to protect privacy.