Boston Public Health Commission Report Highlights Disparities in Life Expectancy Between City Neighborhoods

May 18, 2023

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) recently 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.

Among those concerning disparities are 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.