Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

Apparently not enough U.S. adults and adolescents heed their mothers' admonition to eat their vegetables. That's the conclusion of a new Centers for Disease Control survey which studied American diets to see if the country meets the national goal of at least 75 percent of Americans eating two or more servings of fruit a day and at least 50 percent of Americans eating three or more servings of vegetables a day.

The CDC reports that nationally only 33 percent of adults and 32 percent of adolescents eat enough fruit. And only 27 percent of adults and 17 percent of adolescents eat enough vegetables. The survey includes state-level figures. No state has achieved the nutritional goal, but California scores pretty high in the fruit category (no surprise). Some 40.6 percent of California adults consume enough fruit (trailing the District of Columbia with 41.6 percent). On the vegetable side, California comes in around the middle with only 25.6 percent adults eating recommended amounts. (The District tops the list again with 30.0 percent.)

Yesterday the U.S. Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board announced the revamping of, the government's official reporting site for the federal stimulus program. boasts some impressive interactive maps and charts that help users track spending of $787 billion in stimulus money. The centerpiece is a national map showing the amount of funds announced, available and spent for contracts, grants, loans and entitlements for states and the country as a whole. If you click on a state, you open a new zoomable map showing the location of every recipient of federal funds. Clicking on the pinpoint yields details on that particular contract, loan or grant. This stimulus map is also searchable by specific ZIP code.

U.S. News & World Report recently released its ranking of top U.S. colleges in terms of "economic diversity," or the proportion of low-income students enrolled at the institution. The magazine calculates such diversity by looking at the the percentage of students receiving federal Pell Grants, that are most often bestowed on undergraduates whose families earn less than $20,000 a year.

UCLA and UC Berkeley lead the list of elite universities with 35 and 32 percent poorer students, respectively. The third ranking school is Columbia with 17 percent. The New York Times economics blog speculates that the two UC universities rank so high because 1) they are among the few state instutuions in the list, and 2) they allow students to easily transfer from two-year community colleges.

Today the Bee reported that the governor wants to raise money for the state's depleted general fund by selling off $2 billion in government-owned properties. If you're curious to know what other properties and leases California posseses, the Department of General Services provides a useful online database of buildings and other facilties. It's searchable by property name, agency name, street, city, county and property type. Once you get a results list, clicking on a property's map icon calls up a MapQuest window showing its location.

In addition to this property database, DGS also displays assets and surplus properties that the state wants to sell.

This week the U.S. Census Bureau released its American Community Survey for 2008. These estimates of population and other demographic, economic and social categories supplements the main Census survey conducted every ten years. News stories have noted the apparent depressive effect of the recession on such things as health insurance coverage, mobility, commuting, immigration and marriage.

The ACS covers only geographies of 65,000 or greater, so it does not include the smaller cities, ZIP codes and census tracts within the Sacramento region. The four-county metro area grew from 2,091,120 to 2,109,832 between 2007 and 2008. Sacramento city grew from 451,404 to 457,849.

Nationally, the cost of retail gas has been dropping since its June high of $2.691 a gallon. The current price is $2.552, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration which conducts a weekly survey of both gasoline and diesel prices. The EIA website has historical U.S. data going back to 1990.

California also saw some relief from this year's runup of gas prices, falling to $3.140 from $3.153 last week. It's been a roller coaster these past 18 months with state prices rising to $4.588 in June 2008, plummeting to $1.738 in December, then climbing past $3 in August. You can see historical weekly California prices going back to 2000 here.

Last week U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released state-level figures on the nation's uninsured. Nationally, the number of Americans living without health insurance climbed from 39.8 million in 2001 to 46.3 million in 2008. Every state in the country (except Massachucetts) has seen an increase over the seven year period. In California, the uninsured rose from 6.5 million in 2001 to 6.8 million in 2008. In percentage terms, that means non-elderly adults without insurance increased from 23.6 percent to 24.8 percent in the state. All these numbers do not include people who've lost their insurance in the recent recession or have had coverage gaps of shorter than a year.

The Bee's Anna Tong has reported on a new statewide study that provides fresh evidence of the link between obesity and consumption of soda and other sugared drinks. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy found that 24 percent of adults have one or more sodas a day, and these adults are 27 percent more likely to be overweight.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has aggregated a bunch of valuable information on obesity on its web site. Particularly disturbing are statistics showing the steady growth of the problem. Below is a chart tracking the percentage of U.S. and California adults who are considered obese (i.e. they have body mass indices greater than 30).

 Year   U.S.  Calif.
1995 15.9 15.1
1996 16.8 14.6
1997 16.5 16.0
1998 18.3 17.3
1999 19.6 18.7
2000 20.0 19.9
2001 20.9 21.9
2002 21.9 19.2
2003 22.9 23.2
2004 23.2 22.2
2005 24.4 22.7
2006 25.1 23.3
2007 26.3 23.3
2008 26.7 24.3

Every quarter Brookings issues a report examining the health of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan economies. MetroMonitor considers "trends in metropolitan-level employment, output, and housing conditions to look 'beneath the hood' of national economic statistics to portray the diverse metropolitan trajectories of recession and recovery across the country." Brookings compares and ranks the regions along five parameters: employment, unemployment, Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP), housing prices and real estate owned (foreclosed) properties (REOs). A rank of one signifies the strongest-performing metro economy; 100 siginifies the weakest.

Overall, the Sacramento area ranks 80th in the list. It ranks 86th in change in employment from its peak in the third quarter 2007. And it's 92nd in terms of the number of REOs per 1,000 mortgageable properties. You can see the complete Sacramento profile here.

Salt.JPGThe RAND Corporation says that just reducing sodium intake to recommended levels can save the nation as much as $18 billion a year in health costs. The RAND study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, estimates that meeting these guidelines could eliminate 11 million cases of hypertension in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium every day. However, three higher-risk groups -- people over 40, African Americans and those with high blood pressure -- should adhere to a 1,500 mg daily limit. A 2009 CDC study says 69 percent of U.S. adults fall into these three groups.

Most (77 percent) of the sodium we eat comes from processed and restaurant food. Not too long ago, The Bee reported on the Campbell company's decision to lower the sodium content of its tomato soup by 32 percent without altering its taste appreciably. Although the new formulation meets the government's "healthy" target of 480 mg sodium or less, Campbell's won't market the soup as "low-sodium". Apparently, the label is a consumer turnoff.

[Salt illustration by Elizabeth M. Smith, The Columbia (S.C.) State.]

On the Internet a mashup is the marriage of data and some sort of visualization, typically a map. DataMasher is relatively new site that collects data produced by the federal government (much of it pulled from and makes it available as a downloadable spreadsheet or interactive map. Typically these data sets are broken down by state, so you can click on a state to see individual state data or look at state rankings in a table. DataMasher currently hosts 375 mashups, which cover the gamut of topics: health, economy, environment, crime, transportation, etc. You can browse these by "the latest," "highest rated" and "most discussed". Right this moment, the mosted discussed mashup is "Hate Crimes vs Population" (California is 15th). 

You can customize your own mashup on the site by choosing two data categories -- say total campaign contributions and population -- to generate your own map and table of campaign funding per capita. It's fun and fairly easy to do.

September 9, 2009
Follow I-Tool Tips on Twitter

twitterbird.jpgSeems like the whole world has gone crazy over Twitter. Entertainers, politicians, businesses and millions of regular people worldwide are posting to the microblogging service. Associated research tools have grown up around it. With the Twitter search engine you can use it to browse the latest "tweets" by word or phrase. Or use Advanced Search to refine your query by people, places, dates. Twittervision visualizes tweets on a world map seconds after they're posted, so it's been used to monitor local reaction to big news events in real-time. 

A few months ago I-Tool Tips joined Twitter to supplement this blog with links to the latest data- and research-centered news. Posting under the moniker Sacbee Research, the feed points to new statistical releases, surveys and other information generated by universities, government agencies, think tanks, etc. Check out the latest postings in the lower-right corner of this blog page. Or follow us on Twitter at:

Incidentally, provides a complete listing of Bee news and staff Twitter feeds

voting.JPGThe Public Policy Institute of California recently published three new surveys analyzing the characteristics of the state's likely voters. Here are the bullet points:

California Voter and Party Profiles. The number of unaffiliated voters continues to rise. In May it reached 20 percent of the electorate. Those identifying themselves as Democrats accounted for 45 percent, Republicans 31 percent. Of these, a healthy majority in each party said they were liberal (Dem) or conservative (Rep) on budgetary issues, indicating a deep ideological split among partisans.

California Likely Voters. Conservatives have the edge among likely voters. They comprise 38 percent, liberals 32 percent and moderates 30 percent. Likely voters tend to be disproportionately white, affluent, better educated, older and own homes.

Latino Likely Voters in California. Latinos are a growing segment of the state's population. Even though they make up 32 percent of California adults, they comprise only 17 percent of likely voters. Sixty-three percent of Latino likely voters are registered Democrats, but overall a sizable number (37 percent) declare themselves politically conservative.

About Data Surfer

It's all about information -- statistics, documents and data of all types that help us understand the world, make informed decisions and monitor government. It's about empowering citizens with tools and sources so they can conduct their own investigative research. This blog is a place to discuss information that's available on the Internet. What's relevant, useful, valid and accurate -- and what's not.

We know the Sacramento region is home to knowledgeable people who use online information in their respective fields. We want to hear from you. Please tell us what you think of the data we use in stories and post on The Bee's website. And share tips about online resources you think are valuable to this blog's readers. Post comments on this blog or contact Pete Basofin directly at

June 2010

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