The 21st Century Vision Process
Building and maintaining a healthy population depends on information, and health statistics are a crucial dimension. Health statistics are health data that can be generalized to a known population of individuals, events, organizations, or institutions. The statistics can be used to design, implement, monitor, and evaluate specific health programs and policies. Properly organized and communicated, health statistics enable us¾citizens, policy makers, public health workers, and health care providers¾to assess local or national health, mobilize to improve it, and evaluate the success of those efforts.
An effective system of health statistics can take seemingly isolated events and reveal a broader context, identifying patterns and trends that can shape personal, professional, and public decisions. Consider these examples:
- A coalition of community groups and public and private health organizations in King County, Washington, found that the percentages of Vietnamese, Latina, Chinese, Filipina, and Korean women receiving breast and cervical cancer screenings were much lower than the county average. In response, several health plans and hospitals that are otherwise in competition joined to fund a screening and education initiative targeted at these groups. This is typical of the activities of the coalition, called the Community Benefits Program, which analyzes local data to identify worsening trends affecting vulnerable populations and then sets priorities and funds community programs aimed at reversing the trends.(1)
- Any pediatrician or emergency physician knows that childhood asthma has increased alarmingly in the last decade. But without health statistics, we would be unaware that African American children are four times as likely as white children to die of this cause¾and ten times as likely if they are 1 to 4 years old.(2),(3) Information such as this made childhood asthma part of a major child health initiative launched by the President in 1997.
- “Growth charts” based on national survey data are found in every pediatrician’s office. They allow parents and doctors to compare a child to a population reference standard, providing an indicator of whether the child is developing normally or is in need of nutritional or medical attention.