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Behavioral Risk Factor Prevalence Surveys -- United States, First Quarter 1982

The Surgeon General's Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention emphasized that simple measures to enhance the prospects of good health are within the practical grasp of most Americans (1). A variety of behavioral risk factors, e.g., alcohol misuse, cigarette smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, lack of seat belt use, and uncontrolled hypertension, influence individual health. In 1982, several states began obtaining data on these risk factors for the first time.

During the first quarter of 1982, five states (Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia, and West Virginia) conducted behavioral risk factor surveys. Preliminary analysis of data (Table 1) on adults 18 years and over indicates the following:

  1. Acute, heavy drinking was higher for young adults (both male and female) ages 18-34 than for older adults; rates for young males were higher than those for young females.

  2. Young men were more likely than older adults to drive while intoxicated.

  3. At all ages, men, more frequently than women, reported misuse of alcohol.

  4. Men were more likely than women to have a sedentary lifestyle; for both sexes, sedentary living increased with age.

  5. Obesity was more prevalent in the middle adult ages (35-54), and was reported somewhat more often by women.

  6. Cigarette smoking was more prevalent among men than women and was more prevalent for the middle ages (35-54 years).

  7. Failure to use seat belts was widespread for all ages and both sexes.

  8. Uncontrolled hypertension increased with age. These self-reported data were collected through random

digit-dialing telephone surveys utilizing a standard questionnaire developed jointly by CDC and health education/risk reduction personnel of the five state health departments. The data are age-adjusted and weighted according to the respondents' probability of selection and are therefore comparable from state to state. However, the small sample size of subpopulations from state to state should be considered when making comparisons. Reported by SE Jones, Bureau of Primary Prevention, Special Svcs Div, Alabama State Dept of Public Health; NB Watkins, Health Program Office, Florida State Dept of Health and Rehabilitative Svcs; D Snapp, Community Health Education, Nebraska State Dept of Health; RP Hyner, Div of Health Education and Information, Virginia State Dept of Health; AP Holmes, Health Statistics Center, West Virginia State Dept of Health; Div of Nutrition, Center for Health Promotion and Education, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The particular behaviors addressed in these studies were selected because of their association with eight of the 10 leading causes of premature death; they may ultimately contribute to over half the premature mortality in the United States. Health promotion and education programs are increasingly offered by health, education, volunteer, and other agencies that address these risk factors. The relevance of the need for such programs is emphasized by the finding of a significant prevalence of practices that can contribute to illness, injury, and premature death. For example, although smoking levels have declined nationally, between one-fourth and one-third of adults in these five states reported smoking cigarettes. For young adult males, acute, heavy drinking in the previous month ranged from 32% to 48%, and up to 29% reported driving after drinking too much alcohol. These and similar data suggest that lifestyle change offers a substantial potential to individuals who wish to reduce risks of disease, disability, and premature death.

These surveys represent a growing trend by state health departments to collect behavioral risk factor information in their efforts to monitor the health status of their citizens. Using a standardized core questionnaire greatly enhances the ability of states to compare survey results and to gain additional insight and support for program decisions.


  1. United States. Surgeon General's Office. Healthy people: the Surgeon General's report on health promotion and disease prevention. Rockville, Md.: Department of Health, Education, and Welfare 1979. (DHEW publication no. (PHS) 79-55071).

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