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Health Conditions

Variable Definitions:

Adult Obesity: The percentage of adults who report having a body mass index ≥30.0 kg/m² calculated from self-reported weight and height
Asthma: The percentage of adults who report being currently diagnosed with asthma by a medical professional
Cancer: The percentage of adults who report ever being diagnosed with any type of cancer (besides skin) by a medical professional
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: The percentage of adults who report being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, or chronic bronchitis by a medical professional
Coronary Heart Disease: The percentage of adults who report being diagnosed with angina or coronary heart disease by a medical professional

Diabetes: The percentage of adults who report being diagnosed with diabetes by a medical professional


For more information on the CDC’s PLACES initiative and their methodology, visit the CDC PLACES homepage.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Division of Population Health PLACES Initiative

Years Available:

2018, 2019, 2020, 2021

Why are these variables important to measure?

There are many local and historical policies that have influenced public health, such as zoning laws that determine the placement of industrial sites or regulations regarding air quality and public smoking (Maantay, 2001). Equity implications include recognizing that low-income and communities of color are often disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes due to factors like limited access to healthcare, healthy food options, and safe environments for physical activity (Taylor, 2015). Understanding these dynamics is crucial for developing effective public health interventions addressing health disparities’ root causes.

Adult Obesity

Obesity is a significant health concern in America, primarily because it increases the risk of various diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer (Pi-Sunyer, 2002). It is measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height used to classify weight categories that may not accurately reflect body fat percentage or distribution. However, BMI is controversial because it does not account for muscle mass or differentiate how fat is distributed across different racial groups (Bell, 2020). For instance, people of specific ethnic backgrounds may have a higher muscle mass or diverse body fat distribution, leading to misleading BMI classifications (Rush et al., 2009). This discrepancy suggests a need for more nuanced measures of obesity that consider the diversity of human bodies, such as visceral body fat percentage instead of just BMI.


Asthma is a chronic disease in the lungs that makes it difficult to breathe. It has no cure and occurs in people of all ages, likely from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Although symptoms are often mild and go away with minor treatment, severe asthma attacks often require emergency care and can be fatal.

On a neighborhood level, high rates of asthma-related Emergency Room visits may be an indication of poor air quality and/or delivery of health services. In these areas, educational campaigns regarding likely causes of asthma and strategies for management of symptoms could be useful in reducing the prevalence of serious asthma attacks.


Cancer is a disease characterized by the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells. Environmental factors significantly contribute to cancer risk, including exposure to pollutants, toxic waste sites, and secondhand smoke (Boffetta et al., 2003). Areas located near industrial waste sites or with high levels of air pollution may see higher incidences of cancer, underscoring the need for environmental regulations and public health initiatives that reduce exposure to carcinogens (Luo et al., 2011), substances capable of causing cancer in living tissue. Many common carcinogens exist in household products (asbestos and formaldehyde), consumables (tobacco and processed meats), and environmental surroundings (pollution and car exhaust).

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD, a group of lung diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is primarily caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter (tiny particles and droplets in the air, which can be harmful when inhaled.), most often from cigarette smoke (Sethi et al., 2000). However, environmental factors like air pollution, workplace dust exposure, and chemicals play a significant role (Chiba et al., 2003). Addressing COPD involves both reducing risk factors, like improving air quality and smoking cessation, and healthcare strategies that support early diagnosis and management.

Coronary Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease refers to a number of conditions that involved blocked and narrowed blood vessels potentially causing heart problems. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, most often through heart attacks. Many individual habits influence the development of cardiovascular disease including poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking. 

On a neighborhood level, high rates of cardiovascular-related Emergency Room visits may be a sign of general health challenges perhaps impacted by environmental risks like poor air quality, limited access to healthcare services, or the need for public education on risk factors contributing to cardiovascular disease.


Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Diabetes management is heavily influenced by the availability of healthcare resources, including the cost of insulin and access to diabetes education (Beran et al., 2010). While diabetes can be managed effectively with proper medication, monitoring, and lifestyle adjustments, disparities in healthcare access can lead to complications and increased healthcare costs (Yuncken, 2014). This highlights the importance of healthcare policies that ensure affordable access to necessary treatments and educational programs to manage diabetes effectively.


“Asthma.” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2018. Link

Faust, John et al. “Update to the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool: CalEnviroScreen 3.0.” California Environmental Protection Agency & Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, January 2017. Link

Fisher, Edwin B. et al. “Community Organization to Reduce the Need for Acute Care for Asthma Among African American Children in Low-Income Neighborhoods: The Neighborhood Asthma Coalition.” American Academy of Pediatrics, vol. 114, no. 1, 2014, pp. 116-123. Link

Pi-Sunyer, X. (2002). The Medical Risks of Obesity. Obesity Surgery, 12, S6-S11.

Bell, D. (2020). Body Mass Index. Definitions.

Rush, E.C., Freitas, I.F., & Plank, L.D. (2009). Body size, body composition and fat distribution: comparative analysis of European, Maori, Pacific Island and Asian Indian adults. British Journal of Nutrition, 102, 632 – 641.

Boffetta, P., & Nyberg, F. (2003). Contribution of environmental factors to cancer risk. British medical bulletin, 68, 71-94 .

Luo, J., & Hendryx, M.S. (2011). Environmental carcinogen releases and lung cancer mortality in rural-urban areas of the United States. The Journal of rural health: official journal of the American Rural Health Association and the National Rural Health Care Association, p. 27 4, 342–9.

Sethi, J.M., & Rochester, C.L. (2000). Smoking and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Clinics in chest medicine, 21 1, 67–86, viii .

Chiba, H., & Abe, S. (2003). [The environmental risk factors for COPD–tobacco smoke, air pollution, chemicals]. Nihon rinsho. Japanese journal of clinical medicine, 61 12, 2101-6.

Beran, D., & Yudkin, J.S. (2010). Looking beyond the issue of access to insulin: what is needed for proper diabetes care in resource poor settings. Diabetes research and clinical practice, 88 3, 217-21.

Yuncken, J. (2014). Barriers to implementing change within diabetes care. Wound Practice & Research: Journal of the Australian Wound Management Association, pp. 22, 50.

Maantay, J.A. (2001). Zoning, equity, and public health. American journal of public health, 91 7, 1033-41.

Taylor, W.C. (2015). Disparities in Physical Activity Among Low-Income and Racial/Ethnic Minority Communities: What Can We Do?

Robinson, J. (2022). Common Carcinogens You Should Know. Link.

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