In the world of public health, data plays a vital role by not only alerting us to pressing public health issues, but by shedding light on potential solutions. Up-to-date, high-quality data on key health indicators can act as a catalyst for community health interventions, including those for healthy aging. Data that points to inequities in access to healthcare or disparities in health outcomes can both warrant and inform the development of programs designed to improve local, state, or national health and well-being among older adults. Comprehensive data can also help identify and close challenges to the health of this population, as exemplified by the number of older adults facing intersectional inequities. Employing the findings of population health data when strategizing public health activities allows public health practitioners to develop targeted approaches to older adults’ public health needs that achieve both greater success and cost-effectiveness than approaches that are not informed by data.

Robust and current health data can guide state and local health departments in meeting older adult health and social needs. These data can also offer a basis for public health communications that alert and inform the public about these pressing issues.

Here are some specific strategies to use data based on the Age-Friendly Public Health Systems 6Cs Framework.

  1. Creating and leading policy systems and environmental change by building a data dashboard that contains timely and current information about all older adults in the state.
  2. Connecting and convening multi-sector partners to identify healthy aging indicators, analyze the data, and share results to inform priority areas.
  3. Coordinating with area agencies on aging to share existing data from community health assessments and surveys to create new opportunities to collaborate.
  4. Collecting, analyzing, and translating data at the local level to develop targeted programs based on specific community needs.
  5. Communicating data-based public health information to make older adults and their caregivers aware of timely and important information related to healthy aging.
  6. Complementing existing health promoting programs by reviewing their accessibility to older adults, identify gaps, and collaborate with community partners to bridge them.

The June AFPHS training highlighted the following three data sources.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA)
Provided by the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan, the NPHA is a “recurring, nationally representative household survey” that was launched in 2017 by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovations. Administered twice per year, the survey samples around 2,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 80, along with their caregivers if applicable. The Institute’s researchers utilize probability measures to ensure these samples effectively represent the national population of older adults.

Administration for Community Living Profile on Older Americans
Another excellent public health data resource on healthy aging indicators is provided by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), established by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in 2012. With a mission to “maximize the independence, well-being, and health of older adults, people with disabilities across the lifespan, and their families and caregivers,” ACL compiles research not just on the numerous health benefits of community living for aging adults, but a variety of other factors that impact the health and well-being of this population. The compiled data is sourced from ACL’s own research projects, findings from the U.S. Census, along with other origins.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
Established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1984, BRFSS is a distinguished health risk factor data collection system that gathers state data regarding health risk behaviors, protective behaviors such as use of preventive services, and the prevalence chronic health conditions.

Indicators of Healthy Aging: A Guide to Explore Healthy Aging Data through Community Health Improvement
The new Indicators for Healthy Aging is a comprehensive set of indicators to help health departments assess and prioritize the health and social needs of older adults in their communities.