Taking steps to provide a built environment that promotes physical activity, increases access to nutritious food and reduces exposure to safety risks and environmental hazards benefits all segments of the community. However, specific subsets of the general population may be especially vulnerable to particular health effects and may benefit most from certain actions. Conducting an initial health assessment to determine community needs and trends constitutes an important first step in understanding their needs.
For example, young people have particularly high rates of overweight and obesity compared with adults.65 Similarly, residents in predominantly low-income communities may have less access to fresh, healthy food.66
Determining the most important health concerns within the community may not be obvious. There are a number of ways that local officials can gather information to assess health needs and trends. Potential sources of information include:
Local public health officers and health departments
State and federal health agencies, such as the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control
Local universities, including university medical research centers
Local hospitals, clinics and associations of health professionals
Community-based organizations working on health issues