Gathering Comparative Data
Your survey results will tell you a lot about the health risks of the people surveyed in your community. As you review your data, it is important to put it into context. How do your results compare to those of seniors in your ZIP code, county, state, or the nation as a whole? Comparing your results can help give you a better picture of which health risks at more significant for your seniors and which are not.
Many of the questions on the Health Indicators survey are drawn from standards on national surveys so that comparisons can be made. Below we list the websites of some trusted and reliable national data sources. We also provide some guidance on how to find the relevant information on these websites.
The U.S. Census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are good places to start. The CDC uses many different data sources, all of which are reliable. Go to these websites and explore them. Often, you can create your own search criteria (by age, race, geographic area, etc.).
An excellent and easy-to-use site with basic population information.
1. In the left hand column, click on “American Factfinder.”
2. Click on “Data Sets” in the middle of the left hand column.
3. Choose which data to use.
- The decennial census is taken every 10 years and tries to capture every person living in the country.
- The American Community Survey surveys about 3 million households every year and provides both one year and five year estimates. These are available for cities, all counties, and other areas with smaller population, including census tracts. Detailed data are available from the Data Sets page.
4. Choose your data set.
Most people choose to use the SF1 or SF3 data. SF1 draws from 100% of the population while SF3 draws from a 1 in 6 sample.
5. Click on detailed tables (to the right).
6. Choose your geographic area(s) and click next.
To select a city, select “place.”
7. Select the tables (data) you want to view and click add.
8. Click “show result.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
For health-related information, go to the data section of the CDC’s website, which presents lots of information and many different data sets. The BRFFS interactive databases are especially helpful for comparing Health Indicators data. Spend some time exploring the website. With the “data access tools” on the bottom right hand side of the page, you can customize searches using a variety of data sources. Go to the “Prevalence and Trends” section. After you have selected your state and indicator, select just seniors by clicking on “grouped by age” to the top and right of the table.
State Health Facts
The Kaiser Family Foundation is another important source of data. Go to “State Health Facts” to compare your state with other states and the nation on a variety of measures.
Kaiser also provides access to the most recent Medicare Chartbook, which illustrates data and trends on a wide variety of health care measures: http://www.kff.org/medicare/8103.cfm
Remember that Medicare beneficiaries may not always be the best comparison group for you, because your data includes people who are not on Medicare.
Healthy People 2020
The Healthy People 2020 web site lists ten-year objectives for improving the health of Americans: Healthy People 2020 is a campaign by the US Department of Health and Human Services to improve the health of Americans. Put most simply, it sets national objectives for reducing health risks that can lead to healthier people (eg. rates of flu vaccinations); then conducts campaigns involving states, localities, and national organizations to improve the rates (reduce health risks); and measures progress periodically using results from various standard healthy survey instruments (e.g. BRFFS, NHIS, MCBS, etc). Several of the campaign’s national goals relate to seniors, and you can see how well your population is doing in meeting these objectives. Some states and localities have begun periodically surveying their citizens using some of these same tools. In addition, many city and state governments also set goals and objectives for their local communities and post them on the internet. Check with your local Departments of Health or Area Agency on Aging.
City and State
You also might want to check out the data available from your city and state government agencies. Many departments of health and city planning collect data and make data available to the public on the internet. For example, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provides a detailed report on community health by neighborhood and includes some measures specific to people 65 years and older. You can also try calling them. There are often employees dedicated to helping people like you access the data you are looking for.
Keep in Mind!
When you find and review new data sources, consider the following:
- Look at who was sampled in the data. Are you comparing apples to apples? If you sampled people 60 and older, make sure that the comparative data shows the same. If you can’t find exactly the same criteria, that’s OK—but be sure to make a note of it. People define “seniors” differently. In New York, we often have to compare our data of people 60+ with data of those 65+. It is better than no comparison at all. Just make sure to label it clearly.
- How many people were surveyed? This number is known as the N.
- How were the people chosen who were surveyed? Was it a convenience sample? A random sample? Read more about samples.