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Perspectives in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance -- Selected States, 1986

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) completed its third year of data collection in 1986 (1,2). During 1986, data on the prevalence of health behaviors and practices were collected from 34,395 adults (persons greater than or equal to 18 years of age) in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Telephone interviews were conducted monthly using random-digit dialing techniques and standard questionnaires and procedures developed jointly by the state health departments and CDC (3,4). The results presented here are weighted to account for the age, race, and sex distribution of adults in each state as well as for the respondent's probability of selection. They are, therefore, representative of the adult population of each participating state.

The rates of self-reported risk factors for cardiovascular disease varied by state (Table 1). The prevalence of overweight varied almost twofold, from a low of 16.5% to a high of 28.7% of the adult population. Similarly, the prevalence of sedentary lifestyle varied from 48.0% to 72.2%. In addition, the prevalence of cigarette smoking varied almost twofold, from 18.2% to 34.7%.

Compared with the cardiovascular disease risk factors, alcohol- and driving-related behaviors showed even more marked variation by state (Table 2). Heavier drinking varied almost threefold, from 3.7% to 10.8%. Binge drinking varied over fourfold, from 7.2% to 29.6%. Drinking and driving varied over sixfold, from 1.5% to 9.6%. Finally, seat belt nonuse varied over eightfold, from 8.8% to 71.2%. Reported by: BR Powell, Alabama Dept of Public Health. T Hughes, Arizona Dept of Health Svcs. F Capell, California Dept of Health Svcs. R Conn, EdD, District of Columbia Dept of Human Svcs. WW Mahoney, Florida Dept of Health and Rehabilitative Svcs. JD Smith, Georgia Dept of Human Resources. E Tash, Hawaii State Health Dept. JV Patterson, Idaho Dept of Health and Welfare. D Patterson, Illinois Dept of Public Health. S Jain, Indiana State Board of Health. K Bramblett, Kentucky Cabinet for Human Resources. SJ Allison, Massachusetts Dept of Public Health. N Salem, Minnesota Center for Health Statistics. M Van Tuinen, PhD, Missouri Dept of Health. R Moon, Montana Dept of Health and Environmental Sciences. L Pendley, New Mexico Health and Environment Dept. H Bzduch, New York State Dept of Health. C Washington, North Carolina Dept of Human Resources. B Lee, North Dakota State Dept of Health. E Capwell, Ohio Dept of Health. J Cataldo, Rhode Island Dept of Health. FC Wheeler, PhD, South Carolina Dept of Health and Environmental Control. J Fortune, Tennessee Dept of Health and Environment. G Edwards, Utah Dept of Health. LR Anderson, West Virginia Dept of Health. DR Murray, Wisconsin Center for Health Statistics. Div of Nutrition, Center for Health Promotion and Education, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The prevalence of self-reported behavioral risk factors varies markedly from state to state. This variability is, in part, a result of the social, cultural, and economic heterogeneity of the states surveyed. Some of the observed differences in risk factors may also be due to differences in trends over time. For example, between 1984 and 1986, all of the 15 states collecting data during both years reported a decline in the percentage of the population that failed to use seat belts. However, the magnitude of the decline varied widely, from 6% to 41%.

The data presented here represent only selected risk factors taken from the 1986 BRFSS. Additional information was collected on high blood pressure treatment and nonpharmacologic practices; physical activity during leisure time; dieting practices; attempts at smoking cessation; smokeless tobacco use; and wine, beer, and liquor use. In addition, many participating states asked health-related questions of particular interest to their state.

The differences among states in the rates of these risk factors and health practices demonstrate the value of state-specific data. State health departments can use the data to set health objectives and/or develop a state health plan. They can also be used to support legislation on such issues as clean indoor air and seat belt use and to inform the public about the status and importance of personal health practices. In cooperation with these state efforts, risk-factor-specific reports using data from the BRFSS will be published in upcoming issues of the MWRR.


  1. CDC. Behavioral risk-factor surveillance--selected states, 1984. MMWR 1986;35:253-4.

  2. CDC. Behavioral risk-factor surveillance--selected states, 1985. MMWR 1986;35:441-4.

  3. Marks JS, Hogelin GC, Gentry EM, et al. The behavioral risk factor surveys: I. state-specific prevalence estimates of behavioral risk factors. Am J Prev Med 1985;1(6):1-8.

  4. Gentry EM, Kalsbeek WD, Hogelin GC, et al. The behavioral risk factor surveys: II. design, methods, and estimates from combined state data. Am J Prev Med 1985;1(6):9-14.

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