Behind the numbers

Behind the numbers

Pasadena/Altadena Quality of Life Index connects habits, home life to health outcomes

By Sara Cardine 08/29/2012

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City leaders and officials throughout Pasadena must have spent a good portion of their afternoon Monday poring over figures revealing intimate details about the lives and socioeconomic conditions of the nearly 180,000 people who reside in Pasadena and Altadena. 

Released Monday by the Pasadena Public Health Department, the “Pasadena/Altadena Quality of Life Index” for 2012 gives updated information on a range of lifestyle issues — unemployment, obesity, air and water quality, for example — that ultimately affect the health outcomes in the population. From this document, city leaders and local service providers and organizations will be able to create policies and programs that speak specifically to the needs of the community.

“Public health is not something one agency can do — that’s a fallacy. What we have to do is create a public health system,” said Public Health Director Dr. Eric Walsh, who presented some key findings Monday in a presentation at Pasadena’s Central Library.

One slide compared the Top 10 causes of death in the US in 1900 to those in 2010, showing a shift away from diseases like pneumonia, flu and tuberculosis toward chronic and lifestyle illnesses, including heart disease, cancer and stroke. 

Among some of the more surprising statistics drawn from this year’s 64-page report is that nearly 25 percent of non-elderly adults in Pasadena are currently uninsured, that a more than $40,000 annual income gap exists between two adjacent ZIP codes (91101 and 91105) and that African-American men in Los Angeles County are expected to live 10 years less than the combined average of white, Hispanic and Asian men. 

 “When you look inside an area and see these differences, they speak volumes about what’s happening,” Walsh said. “We have to begin to look at what are some of the social issues, the environment … that contribute to this.”

The idea behind the report, which has been produced intermittently since 1992, is to pinpoint the social determinants of health that eventually lead downstream to health complications and diseases, explained Matthew Feaster, one of the Public Health staff members who worked to compile the document. The preface of the report itself expounds upon that idea. 

“Instead of reporting cause of death, it is imperative to look upstream,” it reads. “If a pedestrian dies in a car accident, you should ask: Was the road safe? Was it well-lit? Did they have access to public transportation? Were there safe pedestrian walkways?”

Speaking to Monday’s crowd of more than 100 people, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said, “We always take into account the fiscal aspect of what we do. (Now) we’re going to take more and more into account the public health aspects of what we’re doing.”

The report’s release coincides with the 120th anniversary of the Pasadena Public Health Department, one of only three city-run health agencies in California. Founded in 1892, the department today serves more than 40,000 visitors each year, providing restaurant inspections for 987 local establishments and prenatal clinical services to 11,000 pregnant women annually. 

To download the 2012 Pasadena/Altadena Quality of Life Index, visit For more information, call (626) 744-6177.


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