Northwestern students to assess Evanston health needs through survey

Susan Du

Northwestern students enrolled in Introduction to International Public Health will administer a citywide survey to assess Evanston’s community health needs. The survey is part of the Evanston Health Department’s five-year plan to improve the city’s health services.

The 2011-2016 Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs, or EPLAN, is the plan that resulted from the health department’s assessment of data collected over 18 months and published in late 2011. Priority health issues as determined by the Evanston Health Advisory Council included access to health care, chronic health conditions and obesity.

Carl Caneva, the city’s environmental health manager, saidalthough results may not be evident this early in the 2011-2016 plan, the city is already working on several programs to combat health issues residents have deemed pertinent.

“What we’re looking more to be is a convener,” Caneva said. “So we’re looking to involve our area partners ­- Northwestern University, the hospitals, the Rotary, the large employers here in Evanston – to work together to make a healthy community. The health of the community cannot only be the result of the city providing services but also has to involve the residents getting involved and helping each other out.”

The health department’s goal is to distribute surveys every year to gauge the success of the EPLAN and determine health trends in the community, Caneva said. NU students will market the 2012 survey to Evanston residents, gathering and analyzing their responses under the direction of Rebecca Wurtz, a global health studies professor. Caneva said the purpose of the new survey is not to compensate for any shortcomings in the previous one.

However, Wurtz said the original survey that informed the EPLAN was conducted by another local university in what she described as a “haphazard” way. That survey had more than 90 questions and a 27 percent response rate. Seventy-nine percent of participants were white, 8 percent black, with an average age of 54. Evanston’s population is 66 percent white and 18 percent black with an average age of 34, according to 2010 Census figures on the city’s website.

“What we’re trying to do this year is do it really well and set up a process for doing it in the future and hopefully this year capture a good cross section,” Wurtz said.

The new survey, which will be distributed sometime in February, will be about 20 questions long. Wurtz said her students will make it available online and provide hard copies in public community spaces such as Evanston Public Library, Evanston Township High School basketball games and local churches to reach a more representative set of Evanston residents.

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