Choosing measures of health status for individuals in general populations

Am J Public Health. 1981 Jun;71(6):620-5. doi: 10.2105/ajph.71.6.620.


This paper offers suggestions to adi the selection of appropriate instruments and data gathering methods for studies that require measures of personal health status applicable in general populations. Before selecting measures, the reason for studying health status must be identified. Next, definitional issues arise when attempting to specify the components of health that are to be studied. Evidence supports restriction of the definition of personal health status to its physical and mental components, rather than including social circumstances as well. In evaluating the suitability of available measures, three features must be considered: 1) practicality in terms of administration, respondent burden, and analysis; 2) reliability in terms of the study design and group or individual comparisons; 3) validity, in terms of providing information about the particular health components of interest to the study. Evaluating validity will be difficult for most available measures; careful attention to item content will be helpful in choosing appropriate measures. Despite problems in development and interpretation, overall health status indicators will prove useful to many studies and should be considered, as should both subjective and objective measures of health status. Given that the reasons to measure health have been identified, the aspects of health to be measured specified, and attention paid to their suitability, appropriate measures may often be found among those now available.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans