ADHS collects huge amounts of data to help understand and address health problems across our state. The department uses statistics to get insights about how many people in Arizona get Valley Fever each year or where environmental hazards are. We also use statistics to address causes of disease, finding answers that impact policy and program decisions.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, researchers noticed that people who smoked got lung cancer more frequently than people who didn’t. Statistics helped public health see that this increased risk of lung cancer for people who smoked, or even were exposed to secondhand smoke, probably wasn’t random. These statistical analyses are part of the evidence for health policies like Smoke-Free Arizona.
We continue to use statistics for public health. It’s used to determine the source of an outbreak, whether it is a foodborne illness or a hospital-acquired infection, by comparing people who got sick to those who didn’t to find the particular food, hospital product, or other exposure more common among people who got sick. And every time a new vaccine is developed, we rely on statistics to determine whether it is effective and safe.
We use statistics throughout ADHS, for everything from describing trends in health outcomes to causes of a particular disease. But as powerful as statistics are, they are not enough on their own. Once the math is done, ADHS experts must interpret the results of statistical tests and use that information to make decisions about how to best protect the public’s health.