Exploring Society By The Numbers

Characterizing the "Health" of Communities through the application of Social Science Data Sets: Linking populations and health

This page authored by Brenda D. Hayes, MSW, MPH, DSW, Morehouse School of Medicine, based on an original activity by the author.
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In this graduate course, participants develop, design and write a competitive individual proposal in response to a published funding opportunity. Students will provide descriptive, quantitative and qualitative data about the nature of a public health problem, condition or a clinical research topic. Students must integrate information from a variety of sources and develop a research strategy or approach to address the identified issues. Students submit a full proposal in compliance with the funding opportunity's format at the end of the class. Course materials include a detailed description of typical proposal formats. We address the scientific writing process throughout the course using the assigned texts, class exercises and homework, provided resource materials, and handouts.

Learning Goals

Class participants will learn how to integrate data from a variety of sources including public data sets, scientific literature and other published information on a topic the student selects. The student will need to synthesize all of the materials into a background statement about their topic that is included into their final proposal submitted as a deliverable at the end of the class session.

Context for Use

This graduate course occurs in a small class setting within an HBCU medical school. The class is a three hour weekly unit consisting of didactic material and interactive assignments over the course of a semester. The participants submit a full individual proposal at the end of the semester although students work on sections of the funding proposal throughout the semester. For this specific class activity of using public data sets, approximately six hours or less of class time and additional time outside of the class should be sufficient to complete the work. Prior to this required class, students should have acquired some exposure to basic statistics in undergraduate or other graduate courses, performed literature searches, written essays, etc. that will assist them with incorporating this new quantitative skill set introduced in the current class.

This current class activity should occur after the participants have identified their research problem or issue, developed a research question or problem statement and developed a hypothesis. Approximately three or four class sessions will precede this data problem and activity. However, the class participants will have reviewed a scenario highlighting a health issue as part of the pre-assessment strategy that occurs in the first class session. This scenario will serve as the foundation for the data exercise/activity that follows.

Description and Teaching Materials

Characterizing the "Health" of Communities through the application of Social Science Data Sets: Linking populations and health


Over the last decade, there has been a shift in demographics nationally and in the populations of DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties in the Greater Metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia. You are a program coordinator for a local health department in this urban area with a large population of young immigrants, refugees and a new influx of relocated individuals from a nearby city. To address the requirements of a new funding opportunity you need to characterize the population changes in these two counties and compare your findings to the national changes regarding shifts in the population, identify the changes and describe pertinent health characteristics.

Skill Set

  • Identifying and using social science data sets
  • Selecting important variables (predictor/independent and/or outcome/dependent) to identify the need or problems
  • Developing tables to characterize the data
  • Translating the data for inclusion as part of the background for the grant proposal submitted at the end of the course.


  • To display race/ethnicity/poverty/family/age variables by geographical locations in a tabular form;
  • To compare and contrast this information from the census data in 1990 and 2000
  • To identify and compare the health factors of county residents from two metropolitan Atlanta counties;
  • To integrate this data into part of the narrative for the grant you will develop for this health department.

Construct your tables using WebChip and the data file (FPOVGEO9.DAT) to explore the geographical locations with regard to the race/ethnic groups listed. You can visit http://www.censusscope.org/ web site to obtain census information by state and by county. In addition, visit http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/ to compare how the two selected counties in Georgia rank on various health indicators. Note: For some of these comparisons you might find it useful to review data from the 1990 census and the 2000 census. This national-local comparison will provide useful contextual information in explaining the health of your identified population.

  1. Go to http://www.ssdan.net/datacounts
  2. Click on the "Data" in the menu bar
  3. From there, click "Browse" on the left sidebar. Find "cen1990" in the drop-down box and select it.
  4. Scroll down through the list of data sets until you find "fpovgeo9.dat" Highlight and click "submit."
  5. You can also click there to launch the dataset in WebCHIP.
  6. Repeat this exercise using "cen2000" for the comparison you need.

First: Compare geographical location with race/ethnicity.

Row = dependent variable Column = independent variable
% down RaceLat/Geo

Next: Compare geographical location with poverty rates


Next: Compare geographical location with family type.


Next: Compare geographical location with age.


Finally, develop a table that reflects the overall health rankings, the health factors and the health outcomes in the two counties using the available datasets.

With the information you have just gathered, please respond to the following:

  1. Describe the differences in the population between the 1990 and 2000 census data.
  2. What significant population changes have occurred?
  3. Compare the health rankings in the two counties and point out the major features.

Teaching Notes and Tips

You can assist the students by pre-formatting the independent and dependent variables into a tabular format. Students can complete this activity in 1-2 class sessions of three hours each. Some of this work will need to be completed on the students own time, as homework. The selected counties will be determined based on the student's interests.


Students will submit their naratives, discuss them in class and incorporate their new data into their proposals.

References and Resources

ACS Community Survey materials and related web sites.
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