Measuring Progress & Change

How do you know if your county’s health is improving or declining? Combine several pieces of information to get the whole picture. Progress that you make now can take years to show up in data. You can look at trends over time for your county to see your progress toward health. 

Progress can take time to show up in data

Change is a long and complex process. It’s important to be realistic about how quickly change happens and how quickly those improvements might show up in the data. 

For example:

  • When you reduce your adult smoking rates significantly, it will still take some time before this positive change reduces the number of deaths due to lung cancer.
  • When you implement an early education intervention it will be years until high school completion rates improve.

Furthermore, most data collection (via census or survey) has lag times. For example, our premature death rates represent a lag of more than two years, and to be sure that we have reliable data for communities of all sizes, we use three years of data. So, the Premature Death rates you see in the current county health dataset reflect premature deaths from two to five years ago. As you look at your county data, make sure to keep an eye on the years of data used for each measure.

Trends over time can indicate change

Examining changes in health outcomes over time can provide an overall sense of community progress toward health. Trends in health factors can inform specific health programs and may reflect the impact of local efforts. 

We provide trend graphs for many measures, which are available within your county snapshot.

Each graph icon is color-coded to communicate the direction of the trend: 

2023 Trend Graph Interpretation Icons

These questions can help guide interpretation of the trend graphs: 

  1. Is the county value increasing, decreasing or staying the same over time?
  2. Is the county trend better, worse or similar to the state trend?
  3. Is the county trend better, worse or similar to the national trend?
  4. What worldwide, national or local events occurred during this time period that may have impacted the measure? 

Download our guide to interpreting trend graphs for additional guidance.