By Joseph A. Curtatone 

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

If you’ve seen me lately, then you know that I’ve been walking around with my arm in a cast due to an injury. You too may have been to the doctor recently for a flu shot or due to a cold. Individual injuries and illnesses like these and the doctor’s visits they require are usually what we think of when we talk of health and healthcare. But the communities we live in are also greatly connected to how healthy we are. External factors such as education, economy, transportation, housing, food security, and safety all impact health and healthcare access. That’s why the City has worked with the Cambridge Health Alliance for more than 25 years to study and act upon the many factors that affect individual health right here in Somerville. Most recently, our latest joint health study provides valuable insights for the work we are about to launch going forward – work that I hope you will take part in.

The 2017 Wellbeing of Somerville Report is full of important data, such as that lung cancer was the leading cause of death in our city for those over 65, which is significantly higher than the state average. We also know that particulate pollution from vehicle exhaust leads to higher rates of lung disease. But data matters most when you act on it. In this case, our community has fought for the Green Line Extension to reduce congestion and pollution. But we have more to do. So taking a cue from the SomerVision process, early next year the City will embark on a participatory public process to create a Community Health Improvement Plan that identifies our priorities for a healthier community and a plan to achieve them. As public health is a shared responsibility and one that affects each and every one of us, I encourage you to take part. A look at the report at somervillema.gov/wellbeing is a good place to prepare.

In the report, you’ll find a comprehensive look not just at the health of city residents across all life stages, it also looks at the external social factors I mentioned earlier such as education, economy, and housing. In short, it’s a holistic snapshot of wellbeing across the city. And the data makes it clear that there are areas where we’re doing well as well as areas where we must improve.

Somerville continues to be a community that values education – one of our areas of strength. In fact, more than 89 percent of residents have obtained at least a high school diploma, and the city saw a 12 percent increase in graduate or professional degrees between 2010 and 2015. And our students are staying in school. Most recently, we’ve seen the dropout rate fall steeply to just 1.9 percent.

Those figures represent positive signs in areas shown to improve overall health and wellbeing. However, they don’t grant us immunity to stressors that can negatively impact health. For example, we know that poverty and health are inextricably intertwined. In Somerville, 14.7 percent of our residents live in poverty, including 23 percent of children under age 18 and 14.2 percent of people 65 years old and older. In 2016, 9.4 percent of our high school students self-reported they had gone hungry.

Meanwhile the report also documents other concerns. Alcohol and substance-related emergency department visits for adults aged 65+ were higher than the state average. In 2016, 5.5% of high school students self-reported having attempted suicide, an increase since 2012 (4.5%). Approximately 38%-39% of renters and owners are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

The report makes dozens of recommendations for action as well. They include increasing the percentage of pregnant women receiving early and adequate prenatal care; reducing barriers for student participation in physical activity, especially for females; working on regional efforts to address food security in seniors; and more.

Having this data and the recommendations gives us an opportunity to think about the ways we can work together with other government agencies, community organizations, and you – our residents – to build upon our efforts to be a city that fosters individual health. I hope you’ll join the conversation as we strive to make Somerville a healthy home for all.

The 2017 report represents a continuation of more than 25 years of periodic review and analysis of Somerville public and community health data. The previous community-wide health data report was published in 2011. The new report can be accessed online by visiting www.somervillema.gov/wellbeing.

Sign up for the City newsletter at www.somervillema.gov/newsletter for upcoming announcements about the Community Health Improvement Plan process or contact Health and Human Services Director Doug Kress at DKress@somervillema.gov.

 

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