Though numbers alone may be insufficient to capture the nuances of population health, they provide a common language of appraisal and furnish clear evidence of disparities and inequalities. Over the past 30 years, facilitated by high speed computing and electronics, considerable investment has been made in the collection and analysis of urban health indicators, environmental indicators, and methods for their amalgamation. Much of this work has been characterized by a perceived need for a standard set of indicators. We used publication databases (e.g. Medline) and web searches to identify compilations of health indicators and health metrics. We found 14 long-term large-area compilations of health indicators and determinants and seven compilations of environmental health indicators, comprising hundreds of metrics. Despite the plethora of indicators, these compilations have striking similarities in the domains from which the indicators are drawn—an unappreciated concordance among the major collections. Research with these databases and other sources has produced a small number of composite indices, and a number of methods for the amalgamation of indicators and the demonstration of disparities. These indices have been primarily used for large-area (nation, region, state) comparisons, with both developing and developed countries, often for purposes of ranking. Small area indices have been less explored, in part perhaps because of the vagaries of data availability, and because idiosyncratic local conditions require flexible approaches as opposed to a fixed format. One result has been advances in the ability to compare large areas, but with a concomitant deficiency in tools for public health workers to assess the status of local health and health disparities. Large area assessments are important, but the need for small area action requires a greater focus on local information and analysis, emphasizing method over prespecified content.
Rothenberg R, Stauber C, Weaver S, Dai D, Prasad A, Kano M. 2015. Urban Health Indicators and Indices- Current Status, BMC Public Health. 2015 May 16;15:494. doi: 10.1186/s12889-015-1827-x.
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