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Monday, 25 June 2012

Drowning in data – Making sense of health indicators.

Alice slipped down the rabbit hole and subsequently through the looking glass into a world fantasized by a mathematician, filled with symmetry and logic – and designed to please the literary masses.  Her enduring stories have captured the imagination of children and adults alike, and been the subject to innumerable academic analyses.   Her creator is the envy of many scientists having mastered the ability to utilize storytelling to convey logic and information.  Although his stories were predominately for entertainment, we are faced with similar challenges in trying to convey stories told by reams of data that bombard the wires.

This past week saw the start of the release of the most recent round of the Canada Community Health Survey.  Buried in the home site are links to community or region specific information in addition to provincial data.   CCHS 2011 release  No doubt you as a reader can dig deep and develop your own story about trying to access information.   Humourously, Stats Can must have a bug in their program for dating webpages, with posting years in the future being commonplace.  It is the sort of oversight that undermines the importance of the data that was released.

There are some interesting stories to be told:
Good news
·         Tobacco use continues to trend downwards in both genders and all age groups. 
·         Physical activity continues to trend upwards in most age-sex categories. 
Not so good news
·         Heavy alcohol consumption continues to trend upwards in particular in middle aged persons.
·         Overweightness continues to trend upwards although some suggestion that stabilizing and optimists might think there was some reduction in the past couple of years.  
·         The proportion of the population adhering to 5 fruits or vegetables daily is not trending in the right direction.

For those that wish to put Canada in the context of our global neighbours, check out the WHO 2012 world health statistics report.  WHO 2012 report   This is a data dense and unwieldy 178 page document that describes regions and countries by over 100 indicators.   A rich source of information, lacking in the literary prose of Lewis Carroll, but certainly making one feel like they have slid down into a world of numeracy where graphs and numbers abound.  Enjoy the ride, or perhaps better advise would be to assume the rabbit hole is filled with water and practice treading water to stay afloat.   

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