Background: Assessment is a core function of public health; however, standard community health assessments often remain within the boundaries of the traditional public health system and rarely elicit public discussion and community-wide action. The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute developed the annual Wisconsin County Health Rankings (Rankings) report in 2003 with three primary goals: (1) to increase media attention to local health outcomes and determinants; (2) to highlight the broad range of factors that influence health; and (3) to catalyze community health improvement efforts.
Methods: We assessed how well the Rankings met these goals through an examination of media coverage and a survey of the local public health community following the 2006 report.
Findings: Newspaper, television, and radio media across the state covered the Rankings, highlighting local results for outcomes and a broad range of determinants. Local public health officials used the Rankings for educating policy makers and community partners, performing needs assessments, and identifying program targets.
Conclusions: The Rankings report is an approach to community health assessment that has received media attention and been found to be useful by local public health officials in their community health improvement efforts.