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CDC health data shows how good (and bad) Baltimore looks

Baltimore has well-documented problems with substance abuse, asthma and obesity. But compare the health of the city to that of 499 other U.S. cities and things don't look so bad.

Baltimore scores better than the national average in 11 of 28 measures of health, according to a new interactive website produced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The site features data from the nation's 500 largest cities.

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Baltimore has below-average rates of binge drinking, obesity, cancer, high cholesterol and heart disease, and above-average percentages of residents getting routine checkups, mammograms, pap smears, colonoscopies and flu shots, and of people controlling high blood pressure.

Compare to, say, Mobile, Ala., which the news and analytics company 24/7 Wall St. LLC recently rated as one of the nation's least healthy, and Baltimore outperforms in 24 of the 28 categories. Mobile has lower rates of smoking and asthma than Baltimore, and does better in controlling blood pressure. Men there take more preventive steps such as getting flu shots.

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But pick Rochester, Minn., the top-rated home of the famed Mayo Clinic, and the challenge to Baltimore's leaders becomes clear. Rochester, the flip-side to Mobile, rates worse than Baltimore in only three categories: Binge drinking, cancer and routine doctor visits.

The website developers say this is the point of the effort: Providing more information to help policymakers develop strategies.

And officials won't have to use Rochester as a measure. The data allows users to drill down into census tracts within each city.

For example, compared with the nation and Rochester, Baltimore looks good in the cancer category, which includes all types of cancers but skin cancers. But cancer rates in Baltimore range from 1.9 percent in one north-central tract but go as high as 9.4 percent in another northwest one.

"Having the ability to report and map health data at city and neighborhood levels is a game changer for public health," said Dr. Wayne H. Giles, director of the CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. "Local level data available through the 500 Cities website provide health information to better inform and target strategies that are proven to work in improving health."

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