Data & Benchmarks

Community health assessments typically use both primary and secondary data to characterize the health of the community:

  • Primary data are collected first-hand through surveys, listening sessions, interviews, and observations
  • Secondary data are collected by another entity or for another purpose
  • Indicators are secondary data that have been analyzed and can be used to compare rates or trends of priority community health outcomes and determinants

Data and indicator analyses provide descriptive information on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics; they can be used to monitor progress and determine whether actions have the desired effect. They also characterize important parts of health status and health determinants, such as behavior, social and physical environments, and healthcare use.

Community health assessment indicators should be

  • Methodologically sound (valid, reliable, and collected over time)
  • Feasible (available or collectable)
  • Meaningful (relevant, actionable, and ideally, linked to evidence-based interventions)
  • Important (linked to significant disease burden or disparity in the target community)

Jurisdictions should consider using data and indicators for the smallest geographic locations possible (e.g., county-, census block-, or zip code-level data), to enhance the identification of local assets and gaps.

Sources of community-level indicators that have been benchmarked within states or among peers

  • County Health Rankings and Roadmaps
    The annual Rankings measure vital health factors, including high school graduation rates, obesity, smoking, unemployment, access to healthy foods, the quality of air and water, income inequality, and teen births in nearly every county in America. They provide a snapshot of how health is influenced by where we live, learn, work and play.
  • Prevention Status Reports (PSRs)
    The PSRs highlight—for all 50 states and the District of Columbia—the status of public health policies and practices designed to prevent or reduce important public health problems.

Sources of community-level indicators

  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
    The world’s largest, ongoing telephone health survey system, tracking health conditions and risk behaviors in the United States yearly since 1984. Data are collected monthly in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam. The Selected Metropolitan/ Micropolitan Area Risk Trends project was an outgrowth of BRFSS from the increasing number of respondents who made it possible to produce prevalence estimates for smaller statistical areas.
  • CDC Wonder
    Databases using a rich ad-hoc query system for the analysis of public health data. Reports and other query systems are also available.
  • Center for Applied Research and Engagement Systems
    Create customized interactive maps from a wide range of economic, demographic, physical and cultural data. Access a suite of analysis tools and maps for specialized topics.
  • Community Commons
    Interactive mapping, networking, and learning utility for the broad-based healthy, sustainable, and livable communities’ movement.
  • Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care
    Documented variations in how medical resources are distributed and used in the United States. Medicare data used to provide information and analysis about national, regional, and local markets, as well as hospitals and their affiliated physicians.
  • Disability and Health Data System
    Interactive system that quickly helps translate state-level, disability-specific data into valuable public health information.
  • Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention’s Data Trends & Maps
    View health indicators related to heart disease and stroke prevention by location or health indicator.
  • National Health Indicators Warehouse
    Indicators categorized by topic, geography, and initiative.
  • US Census Bureau
    Key source for population, housing, economic, and geographic information.
  • US Food Environment Atlas
    Assembled statistics on food environment indicators to stimulate research on the determinants of food choices and diet quality, and to provide a spatial overview of a community’s ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so.

Other sources

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