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BPHC Releases First Round of Issue-Based Health of Boston Reports 

Reports Note Persistent Health Inequities and the Significant Impact of COVID-19 on Life Expectancy 

BOSTON – May 12, 2023 – The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) today announced the release of several issue-based Health of Boston reports. The Health of Boston reports compiled by BPHC examine the city’s health trends and the health status of residents. BPHC utilizes the data and insights gained from these reports to inform policy and program interventions to address urgent public health issues and promote greater health equity across our communities.  

The reports released today detail the latest trends for several key public health indicators and chronic conditions: asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and life expectancy and mortality. Additional issue-based reports will be published later this year.  

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, average life expectancy decreased by 2.4 years for Boston residents. The pandemic also exacerbated racial and ethnic health inequities. Latinx residents experienced the greatest decrease in life expectancy (-4 years), followed by Black residents (-3.3 years), and Asian residents (-3 years). White residents had the smallest decrease in life expectancy (-1.1 years).  

The report also shows concerning disparities in life expectancy along neighborhood and census tracts (subdivisions of neighborhoods). Most notable is the nearly 23-year gap between a census tract in Back Bay where the life expectancy is 91.6 years and a census tract in Roxbury where life expectancy is 68.8 years. While this difference is lower than previous estimates that noted a 33-year disparity between census tracts (2003-2007), these findings indicate that significant challenges remain to advance health equity across the city of Boston. 

The persistent health inequities in Boston were also pronounced in premature mortality (death before the age of 65 years). From 2017 to 2021, Black residents in Boston experienced the greatest increase in premature mortality rate (37.3%). Further, in 2021, premature mortality was more than twice as high in Dorchester (293.9) and Roxbury (282.9), neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Black and Latinx residents and lower median income, than it was in Back Bay, Downtown, and Beacon Hill (140.3).    

The Health of Boston Reports also highlight persistent health inequity in chronic disease outcomes by race and ethnicity. Boston experienced some positive trends in health over the past several years, but striking disparities remain between demographic groups and neighborhoods.  

  • From 2015 to 2021, the cancer mortality rate decreased overall and specifically for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, and lung cancer, but the cancer mortality rate was highest among Black males and females. In 2021, the overall cancer mortality rate was highest among Black men (218.9) compared to Latinx men who had the lowest rate (117.9).  
  • From 2017 to 2021, there were no significant changes in heart disease mortality rates in Boston. However, in 2021, heart disease mortality was 37% higher for Black residents (158.55) compared with White residents (115.6). 
  • From 2017 to 2021, there were no significant changes in diabetes mortality rates. However, for Black female residents in 2020 and 2021 combined, the age-adjusted diabetes mortality rate per 100,000 was 3.3 times the rate for White female residents (38.1 vs. 11.5). Similarly, the diabetes mortality rate for Black male residents was almost 3 times that of White male residents (58.2 vs. 20.6). 
  • From 2017 to 2021, the age-adjusted asthma emergency department rate per 10,000 residents decreased by 52.0% overall for Boston residents, but the rate of asthma emergency department visits for Black residents (112.6) and for Latinx residents (55.7) were 9.0 and 4.4 times, respectively, higher than the rate for White residents (12.5). 

To learn about key data from all five reports, see here for executive summary. 

“These data offer sobering evidence of health inequities that pre-dated COVID-19, and they provide insight into the tragic impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy in Boston,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission.We can address these challenges by using lessons learned during the pandemic. During the height of COVID-19, we successfully broke down silos and collaborated. We worked with empowered communities to achieve collective goals. Working together, Boston can be a healthier and more equitable city.”  

Mayor Wu’s priorities, including environmental justice, transportation access, and affordable housing and ending chronic homelessness address the social determinants of health and are therefore critical for improving the health and wellbeing of Boston residents.  

“The Boston Public Health Commission’s Health of Boston report is a critical resource informing the priorities and investments of the City," said Mayor Wu. “We have a lot of work to do in Boston, but we have the tools and community to make this a truly equitable city for all families.” 

BPHC and the City of Boston have programs in place to improve the overall health and wellbeing of the city, including residents experiencing chronic illnesses. BPHC will host a series of community meetings in the coming weeks to identify ways it can partner with neighbors and advocates to advance health equity throughout Boston. If you are experiencing difficulties with health issues or would like help accessing health care or other health services, visit for more information on our programming or call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050.  



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