In the light of the growing awareness of professionals in the community of the need to undertake health needs assessments of the population, this literature review sets out to explore, delineate and critically analyse the various approaches to community needs assessment, to facilitate a greater understanding of their strengths and weaknesses The review commences by highlighting its complex nature, and attempting to define what is meant by ‘needs assessment’ from the differing perspectives of three dominant approaches, namely sociology, epidemiology and health economics It continues by putting forward an argument for the use of the community health profile, being a multi-focal approach to needs assessment, combining quantitative with qualitative data, and proceeds with a discussion of strengths and weaknesses related to its compilation, in particular factors relating to reliability and validity of data sources The consumer perspective is also reviewed, as are issues surrounding the ethics of data collection and problems concerning aggregation of the numerous data sources into meaningful policy Throughout the review, issues are discussed with reference to the current political context in the United Kingdom Equally important is the community nurse perspective, which is integrated into the arguments where appropriate