public and private health care communities. Leading health indicators have the potential to significantly increase the impact of Healthy People 2010 by establishing a small number of key health topics that can (1) be brought to the attention of the nation, (2) motivate actions to promote positive changes in these topics, and (3) provide ongoing feedback about progress toward achieving the desired changes in these topics. Such a set of leading health indicators can focus national attention on a limited number of measures that have relevance to, and can be acted upon by, the general public, public and private policymakers, and health and science professionals. Furthermore, a set of leading health indicators can create a national identity for Healthy People 2010 and can expand the traditional Healthy People community to include a wide variety of agencies, organizations, diverse population groups, community organizations, and individuals from outside as well as within the health care community. To achieve their full potential for success, communications strategies for leading health indicators must be appropriate and effective for the general population and diverse population groups, especially those that may not be reached by traditional health care communications campaigns such as elderly people, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, members of socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and disabled people.
In preparation for the development of a set of leading health indicators, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened a work group in 1997 whose members included 22 individuals from its Office of Public Health and Science, U.S. Public Health Service agencies and other agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service agencies. This work group was charged with preparing a background paper that would include information on the history of the Healthy People initiative, provide the rationale for identifying and using leading health indicators, and describe the potential uses and applications of such indicators (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998a). In addition, this document provided an overview of existing sets of leading health indicator sets, discussed the theoretical underpinnings for these sets, suggested nine criteria to guide selection of potential indicators, and reviewed issues concerning data availability and analysis. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services then asked the Institute of Medicine to convene a committee to consider the issue of leading health indicators and to propose a minimum of two sets of indicators from which the department could choose the leading health indicator set for Healthy People 2010.