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Providing Health Data through the BRFSS

Hands holding globeHow’s the health in your state? Find out how CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System works year-round to provide the information experts need to answer this important question.

Each year, state health departments in all 50 states, as well as in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Palau, and Guam conduct CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. CDC provides technical support for this huge effort, which includes more than 400,000 telephone interviews of US adults each year. The resulting data provide information about respondents' health habits, their use of preventive health services, their access to health care, and the chronic health conditions they face.

At CDC, BRFSS staff check, process, weight, and release the states' data onto the BRFSS public-use Web site. Once available, the data provide a foundation for research projects and analyses, including a yearly surveillance summary of certain health behaviors in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

BRFSS data help decision-makers identify and track state and local health trends and goals. The data can help health officials in states and US territories plan, start, and run programs that help keep their residents healthy. The data have also been used to provide support for health-related legislation in nearly two of every three states.

Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System logo

The BRFSS Survey

A group of BRFSS state coordinators and CDC staff work together each year to develop, test, and administer the annual survey. The survey has three major parts:

  • Core Questionnaire. All states use the core questions when they interview participants. They must follow a standard procedure for these interviews, including a requirement that the questions be asked without any changes to the wording; states decide the content of the core survey.
  • Optional Modules. These optional questions address a health topic or condition that states choose to add to their survey according to need. These questions also must be asked according to a standard procedure without any changes to the wording.
  • State-Added Questions. These questions will vary according to the needs of each state that develops and uses them. To learn more about the state questions, BRFSS state coordinator contact information is available on the BRFSS Web site.

Example: 2012 Data Collection

  • Number of optional modules available: 27
  • States using the module on shingles (a disease related to the virus that causes chicken pox): 4;
  • States using the diabetes module: 28;
  • States using the childhood asthma module: 33.

Each year's data release includes a list of the optional modules and which state used them, as well as prevalence and trends data that can be used to create health charts for individual states.

"Take some time to browse the BRFSS public Web site," says Carol Gotway Crawford, PhD, chief of the branch at CDC that administers the BRFSS. "We are working to present the data in intuitive ways and are developing new tools and survey methods that will help users get the most out of the data sets each year."

BRFSS Resources