Dorchester Health Initiative


Our Background and History

Dorchester, with a population close to 130,000 people, is home to nearly one-quarter of all Boston residents. Over the past twenty years, the population has grown as local Bostonians seeking affordable housing in an ethnically diverse neighborhood have flocked to its six communities.

Dorchester has also become a destination for immigrants seeking communities similar to home. The current percentage of minority residents (71 percent vs. only 51 percent for Boston overall) reflects this cultural and ethnic diversity, however, because of language and cultural barriers, healthcare disparities, and other socioeconomic factors, this community is at increased risk for serious health and social problems.

Tufts Medical Center established the Dorchester Health Initiative (DHI) to address health issues disproportionately affecting residents of the various Dorchester neighborhoods. Through the DHI, Tufts Medical Center provides grant funding to innovative programs addressing the priority health needs of the Dorchester community identified with the assistance of the DHI Advisory Committee, comprised of community stakeholders with experience in serving the needs of Dorchester residents.

The Need for Health Care Support in Dorchester

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) reported in the "Health of Boston 2003" report that the minority population in Boston is more likely to be living below the poverty level, more likely to be uninsured, and more likely to have inadequate health care. Additionally, the Health of Boston 2004 report showed that minority residents are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, major health problems like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and infant mortality.

Dorchester specific data supports the findings of the BPHC, and Dorchester, with its high minority population, consistently ranks among the highest for most of the more serious health issues among Boston’s residents.

Health issues that were identified as priorities by the DHI Advisory Committee include:


For the period of 1998-2001, Dorchester had the highest percentage of victims with violence-related injuries, with 41 percent ("The Health of Dorchester, BPHC, 2002" report). In 2003, the B-3 and C-11 police precincts in Dorchester reported over 1,979 violent crimes, and in Boston overall, 54 percent of victims of violent crime were Black. To date in 2004, C-11 and B-3 precincts rank 2nd and 3rd in violent crime, and C-11 ranks first in homicide.

From January-April 2004, Dorchester’s C-11 and B-3 police precincts reported:

  • 668 violent crimes
  • 28 non-fatal shootings, up from 18 last year
  • 64 percent increase in shootings this Jan-May, compared to last year
  • 60 sexual assaults


Asthma hospitalization rates among children under age 5 in Dorchester are 12 cases/1,000. This rate is nearly one-third higher than the Boston average of 8/1,000 ("The Health of Dorchester, BPHC, 2002" report). In 2001, the asthma hospitalization rates for black children under five in Boston were 11.4 percent, nearly four times the rate for of white children under five, at 3.4 percent ("The Health of Boston, 2003, BPHC").

Cardiovascular Disease

The "1999 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System" report showed that Dorchester (and Mattapan—reported together) had the highest percentage of Boston adults ever diagnosed with high blood pressure (22.6 percent) or diabetes (5.5 percent), or considered overweight or obese (59.6 percent). Also, the report showed that Dorchester (and Mattapan, reported together) had the second highest percentage of Boston adults reported as current smokers (19.9 percent). In addition, 68 percent of blacks in Boston are overweight or obese, compared to 41 percent of whites, and the mortality rate in Boston from Diabetes among Blacks is 41.8/100,000, more than double that of whites at16.6/100,000 ("Taking Action, Understanding Health Inequities," Barbara Ferrer, 2004).

Infant Mortality and Morbidity

The infant mortality rate in Dorchester is 8.3 deaths/1,000 live births, compared to the overall rate for Boston at 6.7/1,000 ("The Health of Dorchester, BPHC, 2002"). According to the report "Taking Action, Understanding Health Inequities," by Barbara Ferrer Ph.D., MPH, former Deputy Director of the BPHC, infant mortality among Blacks in Boston is 12.4/1,000, nearly three times the rate for whites, 4.6/1,000. Pregnancy was the leading cause of hospitalization in Dorchester in 2000, with 32.1 cases/1,000 population, and adolescent births in Dorchester were 14 births/1,000 adolescents, while the rate for Boston is 12/1,000 ("The Health of Dorchester, BPHC, 2002").

DHI Funded Programs

Kit Clark Senior Services
The Fit-4-Life Program is designed to reduce the burden of age-associated chronic disease—including diabetes and obesity, and to improve physical health and overall well-being for seniors.  Program activities include nutrition counseling, personal training programs, strength training, exercise circuits and other activities that promote better nutrition, healthier food choices, increased physical stamina, flexibility and balance.

Dorchester House Multi-Service Center
Dorchester House provides a healthy lifestyle program to address overweight/obesity issues among its pediatric patients and parents through outreach, improving access to care, and physical fitness activities. The “Healthy Weight For Life Family Clinic” offers trainings on obesity prevention and zumba classes for the whole family.

Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester
Get Fit, Dove Self-Esteem Workshops, Passport To Manhood, Girls Group and several other programs have been developed that improve access for teens and tweens to healthy foods, physical activity, and positive life skills.  Youth participate in cooking clubs and are exposed to farmers markets to increase their knowledge of culturally appropriate/healthy food choices.  An array of physical fitness activities, such as basketball, yoga, hiking, kayaking and biking have been implemented through the “Get Fit” program to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Bird Street Community Center
Bird Street offers case management services for youth participating in its Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.  Responds to youth’s need for positive and supportive relationships with caring professionals to help them navigate the many challenges they encounter. Programs include: mentoring, “So You Want to Join a Gang” curriculum, substance abuse programs and leadership activities.  Youth are provided with resources in health, nutrition, alcohol, drug, and pregnancy prevention.  Special needs youth are nurtured and supported through the “I am Unique” group for them to become an integral part of the center.

Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center
Sportsmen’s Tennis offers safe and nurturing after-school programming built around playing tennis.  Youth participate in life skills, academic and social enrichment programs like Volley Against Violence, HEY Sister, and DEUCE to build self-esteem and a positive view of the future.  The Boston Police Department also participates in programming to build positive relationships with the youth at the center.  Programs serve youth as young as 5 years old up to age 18.

Contact DHI

For more information contact:

Sherry Dong, Director
Community Health Improvement Programs
Tufts Medical Center
800 Washington Street, Box 116
Boston, MA 02111