Civic News

Philly is not healthy, according to this open data tool

Among the the top 10 cities in the U.S., we're ranked dead last or nearly last in things like HIV, obesity and premature deaths.
The City of Philadelphia just launched a really scary data visualization tool.

Using data from national, regional and local sources, the Community Health Explorer — released on Wednesday — allows users to browse through extensive data on 77 health indicators like obesity, healthcare access, drug abuse and access to parks.
So what’s the spooky part? How Philly stacks up against the top 10 cities in the country.
Take your pick: Philly trails the other big 10 in areas like premature death, adult smoking prevalence, obesity, hypertension and more.

Time to cut back on the hoagies.

Time to cut back on the hoagies. (Screenshot via

“There’s some scary stuff in there, stuff that we obviously want to be paying attention to,” said Lauren Ancona, the City’s Senior Data Scientist who spearheaded the project. “Surfacing that in a way that is useful for the general public is very important to us.”
Ancona’s wish is that more non-clinical professionals, as well as the general public, could tap into the tool’s possibilities for data visualization. For example the one that lets you view the racial disparities of health indicators, or view how social indicators of health vary from district to district.
The biggest challenge the City faced during the tool’s development was reformatting the way the Health Department was storing its data so that they could update it regularly in a way that would be compatible with the application.
Data scientists at the Health Department can now update the data from rolling surveys themselves, through an interface similar to Google Docs. Every time there’s new info, it automatically regenerates the chart.


The data scientist gave props to Amory Hillengas and Meagan Pharis, data scientists at the City’s Department of Public Health, who were critical for the collection of the data that feeds this tool.
The code for the Community Health Explorer will be made available to help other cities and states, Ancona said.

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