Measuring population health: a review of indicators

Annu Rev Public Health. 2006;27:29-55. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.27.021405.102141.


This article reviews the historical development of population health indicators. We have long known that environmental, socioeconomic, early life conditions, individual actions, and medical care all interact to affect health. Present quantitative reporting on the impact of these factors on population health grew out of Bills of Mortality published in the 1500s. Since then, regular censuses, civil registration of vital statistics, and international classification systems have improved data quality and comparability. Regular national health interview surveys and application of administrative data contributed information on morbidity, health services use, and some social determinants of health. More recently, traditional health databases and datasets on "nonhealth" sector determinants have been linked. Statistical methods for map-making, risk adjustment, multilevel analysis, calculating population-attributable risks, and summary measures of population health have further helped to integrate information. Reports on the health of populations remain largely confined to focused areas. This paper suggests a conceptual framework for using indicators to report on all the domains of population health. Future ethical development of indicators will incorporate principles of justice, transparency, and effectiveness.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Public Health
  • Residence Characteristics