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Report Highlights Major Issues Impacting Health in Cambridge

Cost of care, affordable housing, and sharing the road cited as top issues

June 6, 2014

New data from the 2014 City of Cambridge Community Health Assessment offers insight into major issues impacting the health and well-being of residents.

“Achieving good health means more than having a doctor and insurance,” said Claude Jacob, Chief Public Health Officer and director of the Cambridge Public Health Department. “Health begins where people live, learn, work, and play.”

The 96-page assessment offers the most current data available for Cambridge on the top causes of death, chronic illness, obesity, substance abuse, access to health care, and many other important health topics. The report also looks at societal issues that can profoundly influence health, such as poverty, education, housing, homelessness, and crime.

The assessment reflects existing data and broad input from the community. City officials, community leaders, parents, youth, seniors, immigrants, and housing authority residents were among the groups that took part in focus groups and interviews for the assessment.  In addition, over 1,600 people completed a health survey that asked about their top health, environmental, social, and economic concerns.

Among the key findings from the Cambridge Community Health Assessment:
  • Strong Community: Cambridge was frequently described as vibrant and progressive. The collaborative culture of city departments and community organizations, as well as an active and engaged citizenry, were viewed by the community as critical strengths for addressing current health challenges.
  • Top Health Concerns: Cost of care; age-related issues (like Alzheimer’s); obesity; mental health; and cancer were the top five health concerns identified in the health survey.
  • Top Environmental and Safety Issues:  Safe interactions between motor vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians; climate change; safety for bicyclists; housing conditions; and rodents were the top five environmental and safety concerns identified in the health survey.
  • Top Social and Economic Issues:  Lack of affordable housing; homelessness; alcohol and other drug abuse; poverty; and lack of affordable child care were the top five social and economic issues identified in the health survey.
  • Access to Care: Many residents have access to high quality medical services, but this is not true for everyone. Barriers to medical care include high out-of-pocket costs, the cost of health insurance, lack of after-hours care, and language and cultural challenges.  Reported challenges to accessing dental care include difficulty finding a dentist, long wait times for appointments, and substantial out-of-pocket costs.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Residents and others spoke about alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drug use among teens and young adults, and depression and anxiety among the elderly, youth, and immigrant populations. Stigma and a shortage of services were cited as barriers to care.
  • Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity: Cambridge was widely seen as a city that has embraced healthy eating and physical activity, with a number of community resources that encourage exercise and a variety of healthy eating options. Available data analyzed by the Cambridge Public Health Department reveals that childhood obesity continues to disproportionately impact minority and low-income youth.
Based on key data and themes from the assessment, community stakeholders and health department staff identified seven health priority areas for the City, which will be the focus of the forthcoming Cambridge Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP).  The Cambridge Public Health Department is working with Health Resources in Action of Boston, a nationally recognized health research organization, on both the assessment and health improvement plan.

The 2014 City of Cambridge Community Health Assessment is available at: www.cambridgepublichealth.org/policy-practice/public-health-accreditation/assessment.php.

Suzy Feinberg, MPH
Public Information Officer

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