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Finding Information for a Community Health Assessment: Getting Started

A guide to finding health statistics for a community health assessment, with a special focus on North Carolina.

Community Health Assessment Basics

What is a community health assessment?

A community health assessment is a systematic examination of the health status indicators for a given population that is used to identify key problems in a community. The ultimate goal of this kind of study, which is sometimes called a community diagnosis, is to develop strategies to address local health needs.

What kind of information is usually included in this kind of report?

A community assessment includes data on both demographics and health issues. However, the two categories overlap since health statistics only become meaningful when you consider the general characteristics of the population being profiled. Understanding some basic statistical terms can be helpful:

  • Vital statistics - systematically recorded information on births, deaths, and marital status
  • Health statistics - for diseases or health conditions, data on morbidity, mortality, incidence (number of new cases for a specified population at a given point in time) and prevalence (total number of cases in a specified population at a given point in time)
  • Demographics - data on the size, structure and dynamics of human populations, including socioeconomic factors such as employment, housing, education and income

More health statistics terminology definitions can be found in this Glossary of Statistical Terms from the University of Chicago Library.

Where do I find the data on the health of my community?

Finding sources for demographic and health statistics can be very challenging. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:

  • Federal, state and local governments collect health data. Many federal agencies collect data at the state and even county and municipal level, so the federal government can be a great source for local statistics.
  • Some statistics are collected regularly, some only occasionally. In general, expect a lag time of at least one year before most statistics are published. Also, expect some gaps and discrepancies.
  • Statistics are not regularly collected for all areas or topics. Data on some chronic conditions and health behaviors may be difficult to locate because there is no law mandating the reporting of this information to local health departments (not "notifiable diseases").
  • Become familiar with some major data collection efforts such as Healthy People 2020.
  • When browsing web sites, look for categories such as publications and reports as well as statistics and data.
  • Use a good Internet search engine, such as Google, when you are looking for more obscure data.
  • Having difficulty finding what you need?  One of our librarians would be happy to work with you!  Simply contact us through our Ask a Librarian service, tell us a little about what information you're seeking and we'll go from there.

Tutorials to Help You Learn How to Find Health Statistics