Prioritizing – Overview

A community assessment, especially a thorough one, yields lots of data and may point to many community health problems. However, to improve the community’s health status it is best to focus your efforts. The materials in this chapter can help your coalition determine the community’s health priorities that can be addressed by community-based nutrition and physical activity interventions. It would be ideal if every community set its priorities using a procedure similar to what is proposed here. However, so many factors influence community decisions. The materials included in this chapter help you consider factors such as economic burden, community opinion, and effectiveness of interventions. The materials do not ask you to consider every single factor that influences these decisions, such as politics or legal mandates.At any time you can modify these materials to address your needs.


Sometimes priorities just emerge without going through a formal procedure and thats okay. Other times a top health concern identified by your team may not be the priority when considered by a higher governing body. For example, a public health advisory committee may conduct a community assessment and go through the prioritization process and identify overweight and obesity among children and adolescents as the communitys health priority. However, the county board of health may allocate most of its funding to immunizations, indigent care, and bioterrorism preparedness, and programs to promote healthy weight among children and adolescents may receive no financial support. This situation is common and happens for several reasons. The best solution would be to secure political support from the board of health and some funding that could be used as matching funds in grant applications to address overweight and obesity among children and adolescents. Sometimes a priority is given to you by an outside entity. Try not to be discouraged. The information you collected through this process can still be helpful for the given priority, and/or you can use the information later when the given priority is no longer a priority. Because community assessment and prioritizing is a process to conduct regularly, you can improve your process each year. These processes will never be perfect. You are constantly making adjustments and accommodations given real-world constraints. Once the health priority is set you can write goals and objectives.




  • These materials can be helpful if you are in a tough political situation, if your team is paralyzed by conflict and you need to neutralize the process, or if your coalition is just looking for some guidance.
  • If a health plan already exists, select the nutrition-related and physical activity-related health priorities. The information gathered in community assessment will be used in writing objectives and in developing the nutrition and physical activity plan.
  • Address health problems as articulated by community members and leaders. This can build community support for current and future interventions. Try not to use your own words.
  • For a less thorough but expedient way to prioritize, see the file in this section entitled, Prioritizing in a Day.

  Setting Priorities–guidance and worksheets : Use these worksheets to help your team choose 1 or 2 health issues to focus on

 Prioritizing in a Day–guidance and worksheets : A quick way to choose the community’s top health issue




People work together in a number of ways, in coalitions, partnerships, committees, teams, task forces, and so on. The tools in Moving to the Future will help you no matter how your group is structured. To make Moving to the Future friendly to people working together in different ways, we use these group terms interchangeably. So, if you are working in a formal committee and Moving to the Future uses the word team, the information applies to you as well.


In Moving to the Future, the word program is defined broadly and could encompass any group of activities including projects, services, programs, and policy or environmental changes.

Nutrition and Physical Activity

In Moving to the Future, we often pair the wordnutrition with the phrase physical activity, as for example in “address the nutrition and physical activity needs” or “develop a nutrition and physical activity plan.” This does not suggest that these materials are only useful to people working on community-based nutrition AND physical activity programs. You can use the Moving to the Future resources to develop a plan focused only on nutrition or a plan focused only on physical activity. Moving to the Future provides guidance on a process–not on content. In fact, these materials could be adapted and used to develop a teen pregnancy prevention plan, for example, or a plan for any other community health priority.

Be Flexible & Realistic

Moving to the Future principles Flexible and Realistic are the bywords of this approach. The intent of Moving to the Future is to provide guidance. Use what is helpful and modify materials to meet your needs. Planning and implementing community-based programs is not work that can be done perfectly. Do the best you can, given your real-world limitations, and commit to making improvements every year.