The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) is a telephone survey of adults 18 and older. Data collected by BRFSS provide statewide and county level estimates of disease rates and behaviors among Washington residents, and are used to track progress toward health objectives, and evaluate public health policies and programs. The survey is a primary source of information about the prevalence of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, cancer, obesity, asthma, mental illness, falls, and disability. Other questions measure mental health, such as depression and cognitive function and health behaviors like, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, exercise and nutrition. Access to health care services like immunizations, cancer screenings, HIV tests, preventative care and other questions related to determinants of health and health equity are also included. At times questions to address emergent health issues, such as respondents’ recreational use of marijuana, children’s access to H1N1 flu vaccine, and firearm safety have been added to the survey.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established BRFSS in 1984; Washington State joined in 1987. Today, BRFSS operates in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and three territories. A new survey is conducted each year with “core” questions asked nationwide. States also administer “optional” questions developed by the CDC as well as state-specific questions. Adults age 18 years and older are eligible to take part in the survey, and are included via random selection of landline and cellular telephone numbers. Washington State contracts with ICF International to conduct BRFSS surveys.
BRFSS is a critical surveillance tool for the Washington public health system’s understanding of population health. The Department of Health and other agencies rely on BRFSS data to inform planning and priority setting, target prevention resources, evaluate programs, and measure health issues among different populations. For example, the division of Prevention and Community Health uses BRFSS data to target grant funding to counties with the greatest burden of chronic disease risk and opportunity for prevention. The Tobacco and Prevention Control Program uses BRFSS data to determine which populations have the highest smoking rates so they can allocate resources. The Department of Labor and Industries “SHARP” program uses BRFSS data to enhance surveillance of work-related illness and injury, and to assess which industries and occupations have higher rates of risk and lower rates of prevention behaviors. Provisions of the Affordable Care Act require certain hospitals to undertake a Community Health Needs Assessment of their service areas, with much of the data being provided by BRFSS.
Washington residents, CDC, Local Health Jurisdictions, Department of Health programs, Department of Social and Health Services, an “ACES Partnership”, Labor & Industries, and the Office of Financial Management.