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Skip Navigation LinksPennsylvania Department of Health > My Health > Environmental Health > Health Tracking Program > BRFSS Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

In 1984, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the Behavioral Risk Factor
Surveillance System.  The BRFSS is the nation’s premier system of health-related telephone surveys
conducted by state health departments that collect data about residents regarding their health-related
risk behaviors, chronic health conditions and use of preventative services.  State health departments
conduct this survey on a monthly basis using a standardized questionnaire. Responses from the
survey are forwarded to CDC every month where the data is aggregated for each state.   Originally
there were only 15 states from which data was collected.  Today, data is collected from all states plus
the District of Columbia,  American Samoa, Palau, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam.
In the early 1980’s scientific research showed that person’s health behaviors played a major role in premature morbidity and mortality. Although national estimates of health risk behaviors among U.S adult populations had been periodically obtained through surveys conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the data was not available on a state specific basis.  The issue of not being able to obtain all necessary data was an obstacle for state health agencies that were trying to target resources to different populations to reduce behavioral risks and their consequent illnesses.  As a result of not having complete information available, surveys were developed and conducted to monitor state specific prevalence of behavioral risks among adults associated with premature morbidity and mortality. 
Data is collected for BRFSS in the following categories:
-General health
-Health care access
-Inadequate sleep
-Hypertension awareness
-Cholesterol awareness
-Cardiovascular disease
-COPD/arthritis/depression/kidney disease
-Overweight and obesity
-Physical impairments
-Tobacco use
-Alcohol consumption
-Fruit and vegetable consumption
-Arthritis burden
-Seatbelt use
Listed below are examples of what the state of Pennsylvania uses BRFSS data for :
-  Formulate annual cardiovascular risk reduction program plans and assess behavior changes 
   over time.
-  Monitor diabetes trends over time and develop program interventions.
-  Monitor cancer trends over time, develop program interventions and produce media
-  Develop annual program plans and identify emerging issues in injury prevention.
-  Support findings from a statewide oral health needs assessment indicating that low income
   and educational status is linked to increased oral disease. 
-  Evaluate adult educational programs designed to address oral health issues.
-  Assess progress towards Healthy People 2020 objectives for osteoporosis, arthritis and
-  Adjust arthritis and asthma intervention programs on a regional or population basis.
-  Adjust arthritis and asthma program planning and priorities.
-  Compare Pennsylvania with other states on progress toward Healthy People 2020 objectives.
-  Develop annual osteoporosis program plans, refine public health education and
   promotion programs and measure behavioral changes over time.
CDC will continue to work closely with the state of Pennsylvania to address any challenges associated with reaching participants and collecting high quality data. 

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